David Ferrando Giraut

TEXTS

AGAIN, UNDEAD 2011

Isobel Harbison


David Ferrando Giraut grew up in rural Spain, between farmland and forests and rivers, in a vast expanse of empty land, on the outer margins of a small town called Negreira.  The storylines and characters from science-fiction B-movies and old vinyl albums captured his childhood imagination – springing from his nearby woodlands, floating down murky rivers, crooning from darkened corners.  Now they reappear once more in his recent works, old specters mingling interminably with a set of new ones, objects and images from his adulthood that themselves seem haunted, potent, possessed, all collected and entombed together into digital reel.

Ferrando Giraut’s productions in photography, film and video often recast or adapt excerpts from his extensive archive of popular music and B-movies - Hollywood films made between the 1930s and 1950s with low production budgets and formulaic subject matter, melodramatic horror stories of the abject and the occult, zombies, vampires, and ghouls – into entirely new works.  With a similar approach to the B-movie footage, he reuses samples from his vast collection of vinyl records, extracting from both archives their graphic cover styles, their haunting, cult melodies and the rudimentary quality of their recording. Each aspect of their production encapsulates the visual and technological achievements - and limitations - of their particular age. 

Now, in the artist’s hands, the crisp, dated qualities of these materials are not only employed formally, but are also applied metaphorically.  From the historic potency of everyday objects to recall past events, to the sensitive nature of the film reel itself, masking or mimicking what was once alive, Ferrando Giraut digs out layer beneath layer, exhuming and extracting fragments of life like a dedicated Dr Frankenstein. Objects, like the digital images that contain them, are the new ‘Undead’; inorganic matter in direct contact with the living but now lying dormant, waiting to be re-dispersed. And, if this inert material can be considered still somehow living, or at least ‘undead’ – instilling itself in our memories and mingling daily with our consciousness - then perhaps the distinction or definition of ‘living’ might become somehow shifted, at least here, now, in the realms of art and within the terms of B-movies.

The impending synthesis of object and being has been a familiar subject for a number of philosophers, writers and artists throughout the last century, particularly in relation to the plasmatic nature of the photographic image.  Perhaps most famously, critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote about the dramatic individual and societal effects of photography, suggesting that, ‘in the medium of reflection, the thing and the knowing being merge into each other’.  The very moment that the mechanically or digitally produced image strikes upon the human consciousness is perhaps as relevant to Ferrando Giraut’s work as the moving image’s sustained impact upon human memory.  Andy Warhol, artist and voracious image-maker, was once described by American art historian Rosalind Krauss as wanting ‘to be nothing but image, surface, a bit of light on a screen, a mirror for the fantasies and a magnet for the desires of others’. 

The previous two examples, significant in their own right, appear in a recent essay by Hito Steyerl published in her article for e-flux journal called, A Thing Like You and Me (2010). Here Steyerl enthusiastically encourages us to disregard ‘the subject’ (and in doing so, brazenly, blasphemously ignores the legacy of twentieth century psychoanalysis), and all out embrace the ‘object’, because she says, ‘if identification is to go anywhere, it has to be with this material aspect of the image, with the image as thing, not as representation.’  In other words, the slick layer or epidermis between thing and image must be dissolved, we are no longer subjects, we are simultaneously thing and its image. The historical subject, she contends, and the outsider’s struggle to be inside it (be it in whatever respective liberation movement), is too difficult, too mired in stigma, to drowned in history, to be fruitfully maintained and conquered.  Instead, she proposes, ‘How about siding with the object for a change? Why not affirm it? Why not be a thing? An object without a subject? A thing among other things?’(1) Here perhaps, at least temporarily, we can employ Steyerl’s thought exercise of how best to proceed in a culture and economy submerged in images, while thinking back to Ferrando Giraut’s interest in the many ontological and cinematic metaphors of the Undead, where thing and image, and image and being merge, only to be re-edited and then re-entombed once more below the image-surface. 

From a generation of critical writers interested in the synthesis of image and being, we are now among a generation interested in the complexities of human development through the image, carrying us forward in a cycle of image-absorption and re-production. We assimilate or ingest information, media, or ‘news’, filled with public profiles, then realign and recreate ourselves, our opinions and self-images, in and through these image-vessels, all the while updating these assumed identities only to return them into the wash of this endless loop. Distinction between this cycle’s beginning and end becomes as difficult as identifying the boundary between being and its image. We are encouraged to be active and to be ‘real’ within this cycle where endless, tampered images are consistently presented as evidence or validation, rather than as fictitious, alterable entity. 

A number of artists and writers explore this pithy convergence.  In a relatively recent interview with Frieze magazine, British artist Mark Leckey spoke of his interest in the plasmaticness of film referring specifically to Bladerunner (dir. Ridley Scott, 1982)(2).  ‘Plasmaticness’, in Leckey’s terms, is the state where life and film are no longer divided by a plasma, or skin, or screen.  They interpenetrate, loop and splurge into one another, presenting themselves to us, as us in images projected in high definition video, reeled onto the cinema screen, played from the Internet browser, posted on advertisement hoardings, gyrating in music videos, seen on television or computer monitors from rural domestic settings to the blinking LEDs of London’s Piccadilly Circus.  Leckey borrows the noun ‘Plasmaticness’, from Russian film theorist and philosopher, Sergei Eisenstein (1898 – 1948) who coined the phrase ‘plasmatic’ to capture the fluid and emotionally penetrative contours of Disney’s cartoon characters, in films like Merbabies (dir. Disney, 1930) and Willie the Operatic Whale (dir. Disney, 1946).   Although Eisenstein’s plasma referred to the fluid outline of the animated character, and Leckey’s usage implies the surface layer of the film screen itself, both were interested in this pattern of image absorption, digestion and subsequent reproduction, the impression film makes on contemporary consciousness, and the inverse; the public’s distorted perception of ‘real life’, when objects’ surfaces, textures and dimensions are now and forever immersed in the expanding contours of film.

Ferrando Giraut interest in the synthesis of image and consciousness through the vapors of his own memory draws on the writings of Bernard Stiegler. A contemporary French philosopher, Stiegler writes on the “cinematic constitution of the consciousness”.(3)  In La Technique et Le Temps (2001) he introduces the notion of ‘technogenesis’ as the synthesis of modern human life and technological life.  In these terms, technology is understood as a biological appendage, through which we conceptualise both our self and our surroundings. Not only do immediate examples of this reveal themselves in our memory, such as early childhood photographs constituting or influencing memories, but this prosthesis also impacts in the way that inorganic organizational systems, such as stock markets or patterns of internet sales and distribution, are in fact just larger, graphic representations of collective human predictions and desires.  As man and machine grow closer together in increasingly ‘technogenetic’ life, the observations of theorists, philosophers, artists, and anthropologists begin to resemble characters from old B-movies, strange hybrids emerging at cataclysmic meeting points of past and future, the murky swamps where living wrestle with the Undead. 

Evidence of this epidemic, the merge between man and machine, subject and object, organic and inorganic, is widespread, visible around the world and across artistic disciplines, according to Italian Aesthetic theorist, Mario Perniola, in The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic (1994). The work borrows its title from Walter Benjamin’s essay (1935) on Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century.  Here, Benjamin’s sex appeal of the inorganic referred to the glittery, appealing strength of fashion and its power to commercially validate, or ‘enthrone’ commodities.  Perniola picks up this phrase, and extrapolates; demanding we seriously reconsider the category of the ‘thing that feels’ and our relationship to it, which he claims has been inadequately considered within the Cartestian tradition.  Perinola claims,things and senses are no longer in conflict with one another but have struck an alliance thanks to which the most detached abstraction and the most unrestrained excitement are almost inseparable and are often indistinguishable.’  Accordingly, he demands we reconsider all aspects of traditional sexual expectations and develop an alternative, neuter sexuality, relinquishing normalized patterns of sexual behaviour, desire, pleasure, and gendered division.  Perinola maintains that ‘To free oneself of orgasmomania [which is the desire or necessity to climax through penetrative events]… is the first step toward the neuter, suspended and artificial sexuality of the thing that feels…’(4) And that ‘to wear one’s own body as extraneous clothing…opens us toward a complete exteriority in which everything is surface, skin, fabric.’

Perniola’s claims for a neuter, or inorganic sexuality has existent models in philosophy and the arts where, he claims, artists’ works reveal structural awareness of their own object-ness while at the same time being whole, living entites; from the literature of Samuel Beckett, to the architecture of Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind to the photography of Cindy Sherman. He claims, ‘neutral sexuality opens up a dimension that does not constitute an actual anthropological mutation but suspends man, so to speak, in a different virtuality both from what is given and from imagination.’  Perinola’s writing demands a renewed understanding of ‘the thing that feels’ in relation to the person that feels. Its relevance here might be in understanding a sensory human state (mediated by the image or thing) in relation to the sensory thing (mediated by the human); neither as entirely independent, penetrating the other in isolated climactic events, but in an ongoing, often invisible symbiosis. To understand everything like Perniola, as surface, skin or fabric is as unifying and potentially problematic a venture as Steyerl’s thought exercise, or even the earlier observations of Krauss, Warhol and Benjamin.  But perhaps this flexible lens is the most appropriate critical device through which to view the form and content of Ferrando Giraut’s accomplished new body of work.

Here, in both subject matter and treatment of his films, Ferrando Giraut explores the condition when the living being mingles interminably with the inorganic.  His treatment of an old, familiar film genres and popular vinyl music is brought back to life amid contemporary enquiries of this odd, foreboding fusion. Amid a pervasive cycle images, with all their fluid, changing economies and effects, his work presents life as it is mediated through the inorganic. But where the humour of a B-movie once lay in the impossibility of the ‘technogenetic’ condition, the sincerity and critical value of Ferrando Giraut’s lies in the proximity of its possibility. 

 

(1) Steyerl, H.: A Thing Like You and Me, e-flux issue 15, 2010, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/134

(2) Leckey, M.: A Life in Film, Frieze Magazine Issue 115, May, 2008.

(3) Stiegler, B.: La Technique et Le Temps. Tome 3. Galilée.Paris, 2001.

(4) Perniola, M.: The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic. Continuum. London-New York, 2004. First published in Italian (Il sex appeal dell'inorganico) in 1994.

The alliance between the senses and things allows access to a neuter sexuality that entails a suspension of feeling.  This is not the annulment of sensibility, which would imply the absence of any tension, but the entrance into a displaced, decentred experience, freed of any intention of reaching a purpose… To free oneself of orgasmomania… is the first step toward the neuter, suspended and artificial sexuality of the thing that feels.  It emancipates sexuality from nature and entrusts it to artifice, which opens up a world where the difference between the sexes, form, appearance, beauty, age and race no longer matter.