anamorphic trace: sensing doubleness in image and event

anamorphic trace: sensing doubleness in image and event


We see the bodies, they stand, held, an image pictured that then disperses. We hear these bodies, their breath, breathing. And the breath shifts and spreads, the room is incorporated, brought within the body, the body expands to fill the room. These bodies present and representing, fully here, incorporating space and presenting absence. We see the bodies lie down, and rise again, and wipe and repeat.

In lying onto the dark sheet, the skin leaves an impression and takes away a coating. The sheet’s skin of dust attaches itself to the body and leaves behind an ‘image’, an indication of the transfer, of their meeting. Folds meet floor, surface makes contact with surface. This flat bed, the floor sheet, is an accepting space. The conjugation of sheets, bodies and material, in their meeting and separation, in their lying down and rising, is not toward a ‘picture’, but perhaps results in an ‘image’.

Operating doubly, the concept of image has a status as something seen, an arrangement in visual data; and a status as something recognised as a likeness, standing in for or in comparison to an other, elsewhere, away. For Jacques Rancière, this image concept refers both to the likeness or copy, and to the work of art, which exaggerates, distorts or reforms the original. He characterises this doubleness as presenting a ‘relationship between the sayable and the visible, a relationship which plays on the analogy and the dissemblance between them (7).

In seeing these prints, there is a moment of recognising the relation between the marked skin, the laid down and risen body, and its pair in the floor image. There is also seeing that image as something immediately present in itself, a distribution of light and shade, presenting something other than the displaced other, a new image, newly seen. Seen now here, the first is a ‘there is’ statement of representation, the second a ‘here is’ statement of presentation. The audience shifts between these seeings. The moving marked bodies of the performers carry a representational, substituting image, and those same bodies work to obliterate the present image, sweeping it back into the folds of charcoal, wiping it out.

Perhaps between these states of the image, between the ‘here is’ and the ‘there is’, is a relation of the event and the thing. That image that exists, present to us as matter distributed or rearranged, is an event-image, and that which is there as something else, as reference or representation, resolves into a thing, as other to itself, to be in time, having a history.

Etienne Jules Marey’s multiple-exposure images of motion with their staggered or layered frames and overlap of body parts would lead to Marcel Duchamp’s nude descending a staircase. These retain a vertical axis oriented to the plane that captures their passing into document, into the record. Here, in the performance, the moving body passes from vertical to the horizontal, descends into the receiving plane taking a trace of its descent from that plane, and in rising again to the vertical that trace remains.

The trace below is flat, the one above is shifting. Split over its dark and light distributions, this one lying pale in the folds and sweeps of dust, the other dark and moving off, upright but wrapped, unstable, without fixed centre or point of viewing. For Marey, the orientation toward the recording plane, the position in Cartesian space needed to be precisely plotted; for Duchamp the position of viewer, of a tracing eye, fixed points on a plane. Here there is no point from which plotting is privileged, no place from which looking is authoritative; it shifts and slips away, it lies down and rolls over, so that I cannot establish a place from which to see a picture in the imaging.

In its trace of body meeting the floor there is a proper copy, a match of the skin, the fold of limb, the angle of bone, the pores and hairs. The addition of movement opens this trace out in time, spreads or compresses it, the near are separated as the apart are brought close, and an anamorphic shape is pressed out on the paper. Rearrangement of the fugitive dust occurs in agreement between body and page, mass and surface. Agreement understood grammatically, as ‘a phenomenon in which word forms co-occurring in a clause are sensitive to each other. Inflected forms often agree in their values of number, gender, or person’ (Wunderlich, 6330). They make a phrase together arising out of a conjunction, with the joining being in passing, and passing out of joint in the same next moving moment.

These prints relate to anamorphosis, not in demanding a precise other point of viewing in order to resolve it to the proper picture, but suggesting a seeing in time and in the moment that senses movement in and of the object, and in the subject without a privileged position.

Anamorphosis has called my attention to seeing, to the yearning and effort in it. It highlights the leap from looking to seeing yet does not explicate it: [here is the] nexus where looking (at the mesh of lines) passes over into seeing (the picture). (Maleuvre, 20)

The anamorphic operates with or from an uncentred viewpoint: off centre, it needs to be seen in or by moving. Shifting from vertical to horizontal facilitates this anamorphic distribution as shadows stretch or curve over a receiving surface.

Topology, in mathematical terms is the science of surfaces, surfaces that remain continuous and constant if folded or twisted or stretched, but are altered if punctured or cut. Human skin considered topologically, folds, twists and stretches, but remains constant as a wrapper, a container of a body. A print of the skin and prints on the skin continue across their redistribution in space. Time of movement or action extends surface by an additional dimension.

Extended, branching and twining, the event is no snippet of time excised from the temporal continuum. Instead, the moment is a stretching between two magnetic poles. (Maleuvre, 18)

In the event of the printing, the two surfaces share a moment of contact, and this contact belongs to both, is double and single. In their parting, this single shared contact is stretched, shifted, twisted across and between the diverging surfaces.

Here printing is a place of meeting, of coming into contact, and the matching or pairing of the skin surface is distributed by the moving bodies whose action makes and then wipes away the image.

The child who touches the parts of its body with its finger is testing out the two complementary sensations, of being a piece of skin that touches at the same time as being a piece of skin that is touched. (Anzieu, 61)

In apprehending touch, the quality of doubleness is made palpable. We sense the doubleness of the image making, of the status of these images, of the activity of these bodies as present to us and as away from us. Something in the occurrence of the prints is a coming to light, a coming into the light, into white from the dark, highlighting the folds and forms, and displaying these for viewing on a surface, on a plane that comes to meet the body. Here also is a going into darkness, as the dust clings to the skin, and is folded round the surface that rises from the floor, and a darkness is cast on the body that brings into relief the articulations of the surface.

We see the two bodies move among us, we are like and unlike them. They are a pair and they are two. They are marked by the work of marking, making, pressing, wiping. They leave. The missing bodies are the fallen and then risen bodies. Without bodily display, their absence is positively indicated. There is a place, this floor, where someone has been and something has happened, and now we come after to find the bodies gone and the evidence is what has been touched, what is left behind.


Anzieu, Didier (1989) The Skin Ego, trans. Chris Turner, New Haven and London: Yale University Press

Lovatt, Anna (2007) ‘Dorothea Rockburne: Intersection’, October, 122:1, pp. 31-52

Maleuvre, Didier (2000) ‘David Painting Death’, Diacritics, 30:3, pp. 1-27

Malt, Johanna (2007) ‘Impossible Contact: The Thing in Lacan and Rachel Whiteread’, L’Esprit Créateur, 47:3, pp. 55-67

Rancière, Jacques (2007) The Future of the Image, trans. Gregory Elliott, London: Verso

Wunderlich, Dieter (2001) ‘Grammatical Agreement’, in Neil J. Smelser and Paul B. Bates, eds., International Encyclopaedia of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Oxford: Pergamon, pp. 6330-6334

Mark Leahy

[An essay in What Remains And Is To Come: A Document, a publication to accompany a performance work by Katrina Brown and Rosanna Irvine, July 2014]