In Seeing, There is No Right No Wrong

by Zeenat Nagree

"Certain things emerge from the images if you look at them long enough." – W.G. Sebald

Photographs accumulate over the years, contact sheets pile up, and one humid afternoon decide to call themselves an archive. The collection becomes an assembly of propositions, statements on how it might be possible to see the world, framed and fragmented by an external eye. In its ambition, every archive appears infinite. Each photograph within it is given the task of disciplining time such that you might through a single moment be able to see not only what is captured in its present but also everything that is absent, the past and the future. As the archive gains force, tries every trick to encompass the world, certain images resist being archived. They slip away. They serve no purpose. They refuse to be indexes. They offer no data. They withdraw.

Withdrawal is one strategy to gather strength, to recuperate after a period of fatigue, to allow the possibility of encountering the unexpected, to refuse. There is potential in restraint, in not yielding entirely, in waiting. Withdrawal encourages a recalibration in strategies of listening and looking. The rituals of processing content and form, and of determining a relationship between the two, have to be rethought. Withdrawal is a period of suspension and suspense: Is it an interim or a terminus? What might come after?

Somehow, images have a way of scrambling time. When we look at them, we do not see what we saw. There might have been a vitrine, an entire museum within which it was placed, bodies moving around objects. But the image retains only what it does, and before our eyes, there is a neck, a jaw wide open, on the verge of attack. It becomes so large, almost a monument in its animated isolation. If on another day, on another ambiguous evening long after, we see another set of teeth poised to bite, the memory surfaces, and superimposes itself upon the present, without regard for its own fickle power over our perception.

We do not know where we are. We cannot quite tell what time it is. How have we arrived here? The missiles landed before us, the concrete has cracked, a helicopter is hovering. Is it a ruin we are wandering through, or a rearrangement of the ordinary? It might be possible to tell many stories at once, to look towards history and the violence it contains for clues to this tableau, to use its pieces to put together a landscape on the verge of unravelling, to see it all as a dark joke disguised as a puzzle. Everything depends on the way a thing is thought. The minute marks that swirl across the black background evoke the material and the cosmic. They could be images of a great tragedy, of an emptiness that cannot be represented otherwise. There might be other words to describe them if the scale is shifted. We might call them lapses, phantoms, underexposures, evanescent opportunities. In seeing, there is no right, no wrong.*

* The title of the exhibition is taken from the fragment of a sentence found in the novel Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from German by Susan Bernofsky