Between The Eye And The Microscope And Technique And Affectivity

It has been known for some time that every sign system that is a producer of signification can be read as a text. How should we read the show by Lolita Asil entitled “Mystery (in full: Sound, Heat, Color)”? For on both the aesthetic/plastic and the semantic plane, we are constrained to read the signs before us and expose their content. It might be appropriate to start with the question of technique. Here, in shifting the foundation of semantic coherence, I will have recourse to certain of Heidegger’s conceptualizations. Tekhne in the Heideggerian sense is a noun “that is used to refer not only to an activity and skill based on the dexterity on the hand, but also to the intellectual and fine arts”, and it is always “connected with the poisesis, which proceeds from a state of nonexistence to one of becoming existent” and it represents a constant “issuing forth.” Martin Heidegger, Tekniğe Ilişkin Soruşturma, trans. by D. Özlem Paradigma Publications, 1998), p. 53; another translation of the same work is entitled Teknik ve Dönüş, trans. by N. Aça (Bilim ve Sanat Publications, 1998), p. 16. Both are noted because of differences in the translations. Technique in the Heideggerian sense is a “style of revealing the secret. It is a way of ‘attaining a release from secrecy’.” See Martin Heidegger, Tekniğe Ilişkin Soruşturma, p. 54. Related to this, we may recall a statement by Aragon: “The story of a poem is the story of a technique.”

Lolita Asil seems to be questioning the boundaries of physical visibility and of what can be observed. She appears to be oriented toward what is imperceptible to the eye and to what is invisible. To bring it into the open – this is her aspiration. Physical existence, such as natural creatures and human-made objects, do not interest Asil. What we have here is not a case of exclusion from the world we live in and its denial; rather, in a manner reminiscent of the phenomenology of Husserl, it is a reduction that incorporates the general proposition of natural behaviour into the parenthesis (Epoche). N. Uygur, Edward Husserl’de Başkasının Ben’i Problemi (Istanbul University School of Literature Publications, 1958), pp. 12–15; and Ö. Sözer, E. Husserl’in Fenomenolojisi ve Nesnelerin Varlığı (Istanbul University School of Literature Publications, 1976), pp. 19–22. The artist does not concern herself with what is known, with the things of the visible world and does not employ them. The physical and the object never appear on the canvas. She concentrates on what is deeper, more intimate, on what might be called substance (substantia). She is conscious of the existence of the physical and of its materiality, and she is certainly aware that it exists in space and is spatial. But Lolita Asil does not delineate for the viewer the physical in three-dimensional action, she draws it now. The line is, as Merlau-Ponty proclaimed after observing Klee: “He no longer imitates what is manifest, he renders it manifest! In the final analysis, Asil’s line and what she depicts is a line belonging to a tissue, a cell, a radiation as detected by means of a microscope; it is comparable to the observation made by Merlau-Ponty (quoting H. Michaux): “It is left for us to dream.” Marice Merlau-Ponty, Göz ve Tin, trans. by A. Soysal (Metis Publications, 1996], p. 96. But this contingent dream inviting the viewers to view themselves is not subject to recall, and there is no sphere of signification capable of being established through recollection. In truth, what is brought into the open and made manifest on Asil’s canvases is but a dream effect. The moment we look at the painting, this contingent dream becomes transformed into something else. What had been made visible may be characterized as the making of herself into a negative and the indication of her own negative. Think of Hegel’s description in Phenomenology of Spirit: “Now is exemplified, this Now. Even as Now was being determined, it put an end to becoming existent; the Now which exists is something other than what is being indicated and we see that Now is absolutely this: to no longer exist while being just on the point of becoming. While Now is being displayed to us, it is a Now that has become and this is its reality; it does not bear the truth of existence. Nonetheless, it is true that it has become. But what has become is not what exists in reality, for it is nonexistent.” Italics in the original. G.W.F. Hegel, Tinin Görüngübilimi, trans. by A. Yardımlı (Idea Publications, 1986), p. 79.

In this regard, we also encounter in Bergson a stress on the content of the line making manifest or the bringing into the open in a visual and affective context. In regards to the art of Leonardo da Vinci, Bergson emphasizes that the line that makes visible possesses a more profound function: “True art … goes in search of the movement undiscerned by the eyes behind the lines, something more private behind the movement itself, the first goal, the fundamental inspiration composed of an ordinary thought that is the value of the undetermined wealth of the individual, the forms, and colors.” Henri Bergson, Düşünce ve Devingen, trans. by M. Katırcıoğu (Mf. V. Publications, 1959), p. 314.

Though the contingent dream, or signification effect, may, in the end, seem to conflict with the artist’s presuppositions or scientific concerns, it is related to what is affectional. The artist chooses to find justification in the framework of scientific theories rather than that of abstract form and style or expressionism, or plastic/aesthetic approaches like the art of the sphere of color. Her background information reveals that Asil studied physiology and histology and that she participated in autopsy studies in the School of Medicine. Asil is interested in the mystery of being and existence in the scientific context rather than the philosophical. In this respect, it may be asserted that the canvas provides the affective dimension of the tensions present between the eye and the microscope; sensation and the tissue and the cell; and the cosmic and the biological. Lolita Asil gives priority to a universal design or representation. Without a doubt, the aspect under the microscope, the image that she sees undergoes mutation in the process of being transferred to the canvas. It is an image that is there and belongs to the one there as well as being one unique to its extension on the canvas. This image resembles both a nerve cell or a section of the spinal cord or bone tissue but it is also an imaginary/fantastic object apposite for almost an infinite number of interpretations. On display in Asil’s Mystery show are seven canvases depicting aspects of “The Mystery of Existence.” True, what appears before the eye and what can be seen are not mysteries; they consist in curves, obliques, verticals, and elliptical. And, of course, colors: yellow, orange, red, green, blue, lilac, and purple. Just like the seven different color segments of the graphic sequence.

No doubt, Lolita Asil is expecting analysis, but the words of Josephine Claes, a heroine in Balzac’s In Quest of the Absolute directed at her alchemist husband, who was to perish in his search for the absolute, stick in one’s mind: “Analysis is not the same as creation.” Honore Balzac, Mutlak Peşinde, trans. by O. Rifat and S. Rifat (M.E.B. Publications, 1945), p. 112. This series compels the viewer to overlap the paintings one on top of the other – in other words, binocular fusion. Our subject at hand consists in seven different paintings: at first we see them all as separate, but when we finally find ourselves capable of seeing them as a single image, when we succeed in seeing in this fashion, then we comprehend what Bergson referred to as “its primary intention is its fundamental inspiration.” I have already mentioned the existence in Asil of the idea of a universal representation. Without a doubt, the viewer cannot encompass the entirety of the implicit framework of this specific representation. It is knowledge about an arrival at a state, about a formation which possesses no information. But this situation of being in-between, in the full sense of the word, is the most perfect discourse on a counterbalance between scientific cognition and artistic cognition that cannot be paraphrased. We know, but we do not know, see, but we do not see, we are elucidating, but we are concealing. The artist neither knows the viewer’s expectations, desires, and prognoses nor does the viewer know the artist’s expectations, desires, prognoses. Everything – bringing into the open with understanding, seeing reality by opening to what is imaginary/fantastic –occurs in the context of an indeterminacy or uncertainty coefficient.

Lolita Asil’s pictorial quest is like being in a negative/positive contiguity to the fate of Balzac’s hero Balthazar Cleas, who sought to make gold, that is, to attain, the absolute. Confronted by the thought that his wife may die, Balthazar says he is relinquishing knowledge and abandons his work in alchemy. But, when this withdrawal leads to physical/spiritual ruin, his wife Josephine asks him to resume his research. Asil, however, has no fear of encountering destruction. In the name of intelligibility, she makes no compromises, no apologies. For Balthazar goes back to alchemy after his wife dies. Asil, truth be told, regardless of how it may be perceived by the general viewer, continues to conduct autopsies nonstop and, however despairing, to dissect and take their measure. In short, Lolita Asil dissects what she imagines. And vice versa.

As mentioned above: the human being does not act in Asil’s paintings. No human being can be discovered in the flesh. But the flesh is never transformed into an idealist/solipsist Nous. The human being or the body is reduced to organs: Lungs or Spinal Cord. Keeping in mind Lolita Asil’s previous shows, we may claim that Lungs, Heart, Spinal Cord are all vital organs and are each little more than an organ and a natural resource. In that case, it is possible to put forward in an undeniable fashion that what is in question is not human activity, but physical perception like energy and radiation. If we recall that radiation signifies the discharge of energy into the surroundings from a source in the form of particles or waves, we can understand more intimately Asil’s studies on light and color and the source of her concerns.

At this point, we must note that Lolita Asil draws attention to the relationship between sound, color, and even heat. It is known that, long before, during the Renaissance, attention was devoted to the relationship between sound and color. The theory that Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit music theorist and mathematician systematized in the 16000s, hypothesized thet every sound had a color counterpart. Arthur Rimbaud, in his well-known poem “Vowels”, categorized the letters as colors: A = black, I = sc arlet, U = green, and O = blue. Composers like Scriabin and Schoenberg are known to have made experiments regarding Kicher’s theory. Asil introduces the problem of heat in this exhibition. The root of this interest is apparent when one recalls her earlier “Sun” paintings. Even if Asil herself had not previously foreseen or supposed it, I am of the opinion that one may produce the association of thermal radiation. Thermal radiation necessitates that we recall the spectrum includes the sphere of visible light and encompasses waves of all lengths from the longest, infrared, rays to the shortest, ultraviolet.

In all of Lolita Asil’s paintings, particles and waves are in evidence as the basic units. But, it is necessary to add that, in the scientific plane, besides the particle and the wave, substance and light are basic units as well. In this connection, the observer may recall the relations between the basic subatomic particles and wave mechanics. The particle (discontinuity) and the wave (continuity) are bound to each other in an inseparable manner. Moreover, the distinctions between them, when one descends to the subatomic world, become relative and virtually vanish. Certainly, in understanding Lolita Asil’s paintings, one may have recourse to the assistance of the composite field theory. But, a warning is in order: scientific theories may merely assist one in looking at the painting. The artist may have utilized them to this or that degree and for this or that purpose. In any case, a canvas never directly conveys scientific facts. What Asil renders on the canvas or brings into the open is not simply a lung, a spinal cord, or blood, even if she has examined it under the microscope.

Furthermore, if Asil’s paintings reflect and order, this is also an order that possesses a deficiency or an excess. To put it another way, it contains a lack of order to some extent or it hints at a lack of order. Compare Magritte’s celebrated picture entitled This is Not a Pipe and certain of his ironic remarks: “Well, here’s that famous pipe. I ask you: Were you able to fill my pipe? No, it was merely a symbol, wasn’t? Therefore, if I had written the words ‘This is a pipe’ on the painting, I would have been lying.” H. Toczyner, René Magritte, trans. by N. Boyacı (Düzlem Publications, 1992), p. 92.

As for me, I believe that viewing Lolita Asil’s paintings with the humorous tone adopted by Magritte in this anecdote is the most fitting. To assume that you have seen the heart of both substance and spirit and nothing at all. For as Plato stated in The Republic (p. 318, Book 7, 518/a, trans. by S. Eyüboğlu/ M. A. Cimcoz): “The human eye may become blurred in two ways and because of two opposite reasons: one occurs as one makes the transition from light to darkness and the other as one goes from the darkness into the light.”        

Ahmet OKTAY -2003

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