12 December 2007

Figure & Ground

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From "Haptic Visuality" by Laura U. Marks:

"... I hope you get a sense of the political stakes between these two kinds of visuality, haptic and optical, and the two kinds of space they intend, smooth space and striated space.

"Optical visuality sees objects as distinct, distant, and identifiable, existing in illusionary three-dimensional space. It maintains a clear, crisp relationship between figure and ground. Optical visuality is necessary for distance perception: for surveying a landscape, for making fine distinctions between things at a distance. That's how the object of vision is constituted in optical visuality. The subject of vision -- the beholder -- is also conceived as discrete, as having solid borders that demarcate the beholder from the thing beheld. So you can see why optical visuality is needed, for example, for firing a missile. It conceives of the other, the object of vision, as distant and unconnected to the subject of vision. Optical visuality is necessary. But it's only half of vision.

"Haptic visuality sees the world as though it were touching it: close, unknowable, appearing to exist on the surface of the image. Haptic images disturb the figure-ground relationship. The early twentieth-century Viennese art historian Alois Riegl borrowed the term from psychology, haptein, for a kind of vision that 'grabs' the thing it looks at. I think it's important that Riegl was a historian of textiles, and that he came up with this word when he was poring over his Persian carpets. These carpets with their endless, interleaved patterns don't allow the eye to rest in one place; they invite the eye to move along them, caressing their surface. Contemplating these patterns does something to dissolve the boundaries between the beholder and the thing beheld."

~ as published in Framework: The Finnish Art Review (#2, Nov. 2004)

Main image: by Man Ray (1890-1976), from Rayographs 1922-1927
More from Man Ray...
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Right: from Les Champs Délicieux; left: "Juliet et Margaret"


astigmatism said...

Thank you for the birthday wishes; I've been thinking about you lately!

I have your postcard on the wall beside my desk.


Steven LaRose said...

Sorry I missed this post. It is perfect! I'll bring it back into my fold when I make a painting and I'll repost these words to support it.

Happy Holidays.

Helquin said...

Glad to be of service! I've got to admit: I've read the article at least twice now, and there are still parts that leave me scratching my head. I wish that she had been able to supplement the text with illustrations, or that she had cited more examples of haptic images...

I look forward to seeing your take on it.

Happy Holidays!