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  • The Ethics of Doing

Some things melt before they become memories

Visual Study

Memory. Memory of a man named Jacob.11 Zikhron Ya’akov ... That is how I have always thought of the strange name of the place where I grew up. As a child, I used to walk five minutes from home to a place called Beit Langa, in the memorial of Jacob. The same abandoned mansion, next to which the youth movement’s branch was located, was in fact a time-honored meeting place for the town’s children. Satanic rituals, tall tales and rumors about witches that were invented only there – these were an integral part of the place’s history. I remember the arched windows, the smell of the woods, the silence around the house, the graffiti on the walls. I remember how I felt when I was there; especially the fear that was creeping into my body when it started to get dark, signaling it was time to go home.

If we relate to this recollection from my childhood, we can distinguish two expressions of memories. The psychoanalyst and cultural researcher Dr. Itamar Levy, in his book The Passion of the Gaze, distinguished between two types of memories, defining one as a memory of doing, relating to events, and the other as a memory of being, relating to self-states. The memory of doing is a memory of something concrete that occurred, or that was stated and then fixed in consciousness. It can appear in memory as, for example, a certain place, an object, a story or a joke. In contrast, a memory of being is that of a sensation or an emotional state that we struggle to grasp or comprehend, since we never processed them since they took place in childhood.22 Levy, Itamar, The ... Therefore, in the case of the recollection mentioned above, the memory of doing is the smell of the woods or the sight of the graffiti, while the memory of being would be the feeling of pervasive fear.

To me, the two modes of memory are mutually conditioned and actually move in a kind of Möbius loop, where the doing stems from the being and the being stems from the doing. In analyzing the artworks presented in this paper I will attempt to use Levy’s distinction and try to attribute the explicit image to doing and the abstract image to being. The works described here were chosen precisely because they express a certain intermediate state between the explicit and the abstract, in which the viewer’s position between the memories of doing and being, facing the works, is never completely or permanently fixed. I would like to point out this ambivalence, familiar to us from the moments when we try to understand elusive memories of the past, because it creates a kind of threshold or perpetual fluidity between the symbolic and the abstract. The works selected prescribe a certain rhythm that resembles the movement of the metronome that moves endlessly between doing and being, resonating at the same time the silent rhythm that takes place in the viewer’s mind. The rhythm created in each observer has a singular nature and its resonance is actually the unique encounter between the viewer and the work.

Trisha Donnelly

Untitled, 2002

12 Pencil drawings on paper + cd

76×56 cm

Trisha Donnelly Untitled, 2002, 12 pencil drawings on paper + cd. 76×56 cm. © All rights reserved Courtesy the artist

At her first solo exhibition at Casey Kaplan Gallery, New York, in 2002, 12 drawings were hung on the wall, side by side. Each drawing depicts one or two tubular shapes in green pencil, and as with many of Donnelly’s drawings, they do not represent anything distinctly nor are they completely abstract. The shapes drawn in perspective appeared to occupy the three-dimensional space of the blank page, while their contours were characterized by subtle realistic shading. Despite the exact manner in which they were drawn, the cylinders did not resemble any specific object but exhibited a certain genericness of geometric shape. The artwork label on the wall read “see front desk for title”. When the visitor went to request the missing information, they were given a set of headphones and a player that played a drumbeat. Thus, the title of this work cannot be written but heard, or, more precisely, listened to.

The conversion of a linguistic sign to sound can be implied as Donnelly’s attempt to avoid verbalizing her works – a move that characterizes many of her works. Indeed, her exhibitions often do not provide explanatory text, an artist’s statement, a press release or catalog articles, and when they do exist, they contain only encrypted statements or meticulous, technical descriptions that leave no room for interpretation.33 Anna Lovatt, ... Donnelly’s language can be seen through the expression created by the artist and researcher Salomé Voegelin – “sonic sensibility”, which undermines the hegemony of the linguistic sign and seeks to communicate in an alternative way.44 Salomé Voegelin, ...

In Donnelly’s work, viewers face a semiotic challenge when they realize that there is no linguistic anchor to the work. They embark on a broader and deeper search into the web of their private meanings. In the case of this work from 2005, presumably the viewers listened to the title, i.e., to the beating of the drums, while observing the drawings. In general, when listening, sound is able to bring listeners closer to what they see and draw them in until an imaginary sense of grasping arises. Through the power of sensory experience, sound can also cause the visual image to “tremble with life” and lend it a certain temporality, which exceeds the mute stasis that usually characterizes it. Voegelin excellently articulated the tangibility that sound can evoke:

“Sounds are like ghosts. They slink around the visual object, moving in on it from all directions, forming its contours and content in a formless breeze”.55 Ibid., pp.11-12.

The cultural theorist Jean-Luc Nancy refers to what acousticians call an “attack”, when referring to an event of vocal presence. While the presence of something visual is there even before one sees it, the appearance of a sound necessarily involves an immediate act of listening that gives it its very existence.66 Jean Luc Nancy, ... Donnelly’s move in this work is to activate in the viewer a dormant presence in a way reminiscent of our memory mechanism, which acts as a vast storage in which active and passive memories exist.77 David Farrell ...

Hiroshi Sugimoto


Michigan 1980

Gelatin silver print

Neg. #208-L

Print: 47 x 58 3/4 in. (119.4 x 149.2 cm)

Frame: 60 x 71 3/4 in. (152.4 x 182.2 cm)

Edition of 5


Hiroshi Sugimoto, Fox, Michigan, 1980, Gelatin silver print Neg. #208-L Print: 47 x 58 3/4 in. (119.4 x 149.2 cm) Frame: 60 x 71 3/4 in. (152.4 x 182.2 cm) Edition of 5 (19810) Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery

Sugimoto started the theater series in 1978, when he was 28. The series features old cinema houses shot with a large-format camera while the film projector was the only light source. Sugimoto shot entire movies in one frame, meaning the exposure time was the length of the movie that he watched. The photographs show a white and glowing box that illuminates the details and architectural elements of the various projection spaces. For the series, Sugimoto had photographed more than a hundred movie theaters over the course of four decades.

Roland Barthes wrote about the cinema hall experience as a process that operates within the tension between the hallucinatory state and the hypnotic state, which begins even before the viewers enter the theater and continues after their exit:

“In that opaque cube, one light: the film, the screen? Yes, of course. But also (especially?), visible and unperceived, that dancing cone which pierces the darkness like a laser beam. This beam is minted, according to the rotation of its particles, into changing figures; we turn our face toward the currency of a gleaming vibration whose imperious jet brushes our skull, glancing off someone’s hair, someone’s face. As in the old hypnotic experiments, we are fascinated without seeing it head-on-by this shining site, motionless and dancing. It’s exactly as if a long stem of light had outlined a keyhole, and then we all peered, flabbergasted, through that hole”.88 Roland Barthes, The ...

In Sugimoto’s works, a cinematic event, itself made of fragments of time, consolidates into a memorial of a single frame, a mesmerizing and scorching bright light that blurs the boundaries of the familiar. The formal contrast between the meticulous detail of the movie theater’s architecture and the white square that almost hovers through the contours of the screen, expresses, in my opinion, the ambiguity of the encounter of the abstract with the concrete.

Moreover, this work raises the issue of forgetfulness to which Levy refers as a consequence of memory. Despite the prevailing opinion, Levy wishes to point out that forgetting leaves traces of its own presence and therefore produces a paradoxical representation of nothingness, void, absence or the act of erasure itself. He refers mainly to forgetting in the case of the doing memory:

“… one can think of empty rooms, holes, darkness, or rather dazzling light, a torn page, a distorted pattern, or an object that is lost as representations of deleting other representations”.99 Levy, Itamar, The ...

And what about the forgetting of the self-state memory, the being? Are there any traces of an erasure that actually never took place? The forgetting and remembering of this state work together, intertwined forever. Unlike memory in a concrete datum, memory in a state is that of a mute and invisible entity. But is the same entity listening? Is it seeing?

Cy Twombly

Untitled, 1969
Oil paint, pencil
52.2 x 49.8 cm
20 9/16 x 19 5/8 inches
© Cy Twombly Foundation

Untitled, 1969, Rome, Oil paint, pencil, 52.2 x 49.8 cm, 20 9/16 x 19 5/8 inches
© Cy Twombly Foundation

According to Levy, both types of memory can be either conscious or unconscious. When the doing memory is unconscious, it is in fact repressed memory, while the unconscious memory of being is an obscure memory since it was never consolidated. Trying to “touch” that memory of an ongoing, abstract, sporadic, and therefore difficult-to-express self-experience is a complex action that will always come to naught. 1010 Ibid., p. 151.Remembering in itself, a kind of primary and fresh thinking, is the main process that brings us closer to that elusive memory of the self-experience, “as a kind of metonymy that describes ‘the thing itself’ that is infinite”.

Twombly’s 1969 work Untitled will be used here to elaborate the connection between the memory of being – a memory of sensation or an emotional state – and the abstract image. Although Cy Twombly is defined as an artist of writing – an action identified with the concrete – his “writing” on any substrate also implies the act of erasure. In this work of Twombly, the recurring helical shape, as the lines of a notebook, in repetitive and “obscure” manner, is also an erasure that resonates the mechanism of forgetting and also actually leaves a trace, a kind of new, unknown and unconsolidated presence, echoing a memory of being.

Roland Barthes wrote an article on Twombly’s works in his book L’Obvie et l’Obtus (translated as The Responsibility of Forms). Indeed, Barthes dealt in his essay with the responsibility that Twombly’s formal language takes on and its connection with the consequences of the act of destruction, remnants left behind after the fact:

TW has his own way of saying that the essence of writing is neither a form nor a usage but only a gesture, the gesture which produces it by permitting it to linger: a blur, almost a blotch, a negligence. Let us make a comparison. What is the essence of a pair of pants (if it has such a thing)? Certainly not that crisp and well-pressed object to be found on department-store racks; rather, that clump of fabric on the floor, negligently dropped there when the boy stepped out of them, careless, lazy, indifferent. The essence of an object has some relation with its destruction: not necessarily what remains after it has been used up, but what is thrown away as being of no use. This is the case with TW’s “writings” – they are the scraps of an indolence, hence of an extreme elegance; as if there remained, after writing, which is a powerful erotic action, what Verlaine calls la fatigue amoureuse: that garment dropped in a corner of the … canvas.1111 Roland Barthes, The ...

Katinka Bock

Radio Piombino, 2018

For Your Eyes Only, roof, 2018, linen fabric, 150 x 650 cm

Conversation Piece, 2018, dimensions variable: ceramic, wire cables, copper tubes, copper plates unique copper tubes: 2 m x 16 mm

Katinka Bock, Radio Piombino, 2018, Installation, Ceramic, lead pipes, apple stalk, bronze, stainless steel, copper pipes, cotton, wood, burned radio. Photo: Ruth Clark. Courtesy of The Common Guild, Glasgow, Scotland.

German artist Katinka Bock, born in 1976, creates her works with ready-made and organic materials, such as copper, lead, clay, stone, and wood. Bock’s works, which at times seem to have been placed almost haphazardly and occasionally seem to blend into the space harmoniously, are the result of a reaction of materials, which it places around the exhibition space, to natural processes. In the Radio Piombino project in Glasgow, Scotland, Bock placed a few objects around the city so that the copper would oxidize, the fabric would be exposed to humidity and sunlight, and the clay objects would be affected by being placed in the heart of the city or in the forest overlooking Loch Lomond. After a while, Bock collected the materials and placed them in the exhibition space, using intelligible and simple gestures like folding, rolling, casting, printing, balancing or inverting.

Bock beckons the viewer to pay close attention to the temporal dimension of her works, to the movement between the animate and the inanimate. The work deals with the preservation of memory traces on three levels: the first is nature’s imprint on the various materials, the second is the artist’s mark in the way she places them in space, and the third, more hidden, one is traces that can occur within the exhibition space itself during the exhibition. Bock creates a dynamic relationship between the outside and the inside – concrete data (doing) that shaped the interior of the material (being). The work does not directly deal with the memory of an event but echoes the way in which the material remembers the environment imprinted onto it, the way in which the concrete flows into the abstract and the abstract flows into the concrete.

One can think in this context of Friedrich Nietzsche’s essay from 1873, in which he connects the search for meaning and order in the world with the act of researching and observing the metamorphosis of matter:

“When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding ‘truth’ within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare ‘look, a mammal’ I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value. That is to say, it is a thoroughly anthropomorphic truth which contains not a single point which would be ‘true in itself’ or really and universally valid apart from man. At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. He strives to understand the world as something analogous to man, and at best he achieves by his struggles the feeling of assimilation”.1212 Nietzsche, ...

Nina Queissner

Arrow of Deep Time, 2021


17:59 min


Nina Queissner, Arrow of Deep Time, 2021, Stereo audio track. 17:59 minutes

Sound is a unique medium mainly due to the somatic response it produces in the act of listening. Listening is an action of a dual nature; it is an expression of a gentle inner movement between a state of activity and a state of passivity; it is a voluntary and involuntary transition between an external presence and an internal presence; it is an action that allows internal and external movement to occur simultaneously, as if the body is located at the threshold outside itself and within itself. Jean-Luc Nancy argues that listening calls for liminal physical placement:

“To be listening is always to be on the edge of meaning, or in an edgy meaning of extremity, and as if the sound were precisely nothing else than this edge, this fringe, this margin – at least the sound that is musically listened to, that is gathered and scrutinized for itself, not, however, as an acoustic phenomenon, (or not merely as one) but as a resonant meaning, a meaning whose sense is supposed to be found in resonance, and only in resonance”.1313 Jean Luc Nancy, ...

Nina Queissner, in her latest work Arrow of Deep Time, 2021, studied a key concept in the field of sound – resonance. For this work, Queissner recorded sound samples in an abandoned diorite quarry in southwestern Germany, the enormous dimensions of which were used by the artist as a kind of amplifier. Queissner created this work for an exhibition held at the KIOSK Gallery in Ghent, Belgium, in December 2021. The work was played on a quadraphonic audio system in the central gallery space, whose architecture also creates significant and protracted resonance due to its high ceiling and cathedral-like dome structure.

Queissner deals with resonance in a double sense – physically and mentally. By collecting field recordings, the “external” manages to blur the boundaries of the familiar and thus resonate with the “internal”, in search of understanding what is heard. In addition, the connection of the two completely different physical spaces of the quarry and the gallery, where resonance is their common attribute, raises questions about extreme meanings of memories of a place. The resonance is no longer a by-product of the work – it becomes an independent layer that produces a presence into which the listeners can mold their inner resonance and temporarily step outside the concrete into the abstract and vice versa. The physical spaces for Queissner are not the important part of her study, but only a means through which questions can be asked about the lack of a body in the face of the presence of something else:

“In listening to our sonic environment we sway with movements that abolish the dualism between the mind and the body and agree to synchronicity with that which we do not control. This providing of an internal space for what is other than ourselves, precisely the willful becoming of a resonant subject, seems to me like one important criteria for poiesis (poetry, art) to occur”.1414 From the artist.

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