Into the abyss: image excess in the slide library

prm lecture 15 nov

Long abundant, photography’s ubiquity and multiplicity has undoubtedly intensified in recent years. Photographs proliferate in the digital domain at an unprecedented scale, offering the partial realisation of many longstanding desires from a global encyclopaedic mapping of the visual world to a museum without walls. Photographic multitudes, however, also embody multifarious fears: of visual noise and mindless repetition, of metaphorical promiscuity and overpopulation. To engage with the apparently unmanageable excess of images is, it seems, to gaze into the abyss. This talk considers the photographic abyss through an examination of the visual and literary device of mise en abyme and through WJT Mitchell’s concept of the metapicture, that is, self-referential images that “might be capable of reflection on themselves, capable of providing a second- order discourse that tells us – or at least shows us – something about pictures” (Mitchell 1994: 38). Through an exploration of the recent work of contemporary artists who explore photographic enormity as their subject matter, particularly in relation to works that utilise obsolete photographic materials – in the form of 35mm slides from deaccessioned art history slide libraries – this talk examines how such works and such materials employ and embody metapictorial strategies. In their oscillation between the tiny and singular and the massive and multiple, as reinterpreted by artists, the form and content of slide libraries necessarily expands and contracts to offer micro and macro views, confirming scale as a central photographic characteristic. As the works constitute images of images of images, I argue that they offer a productive metapictorial site for surveying desires and anxieties about image abundance and excess.

VMMA-Pitt Rivers Museum Lunchtime Lectures Michaelmas 2019

Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Theatre (off Robinson Close)

Fridays at 1pm (Weeks 1-8)

Convened by Clare Harris and Marcus Banks