Warstat, A., 2022.
Exhausting metaphor - Andrea Fisher and the infinitely deferred image
|Output Type:||Conference paper|
|Presented at:||Times of Metaphor : A Symposium on the Temporal, Metaphorical, and the Still and Moving Image|
|Venue:||Royal College of Art|
|Dates:||8/7/2022 - 8/7/2022|
Andrea Fisher's work was preoccupied with how bodies, memories and loss were written into photographs. In her final work 'The Classification of White' (1997), the images of the white sheets allude to both crumpled bed linen and winding sheets - places where our bodies encounter loss and alterity (sleep and sleeplessness, exhaustion, desire, birth and death). The collection of practically abstract images appears to mimic film stills and allude to stories (the pictures have digital date stamps on them showing times and years), but the series withholds the satisfactions we often associate with narrative (such as resolution, meaning or temporal progress). The images are surfaces where sensibility and meaning meet, but don't quite coincide.
One of the challenges of looking at Fisher's work comes from the way the installations invite attentive interpretation and, simultaneously, withhold clarification (often her work would have a laboratory - even mortuary-esque - feel to it, encouraging a meditative and precise absorption with the images and objects); as if the story you detected in the work was, in some way, partial or untellable. With such minimal clues to aid interpretation, the viewer has to improvise and speculate. Metaphorical conjecture - the attempt to infer meaning through inventive connection - becomes a necessity, but these metaphors cannot offer any security that the work will be understood.
This paper argues that the procedures of metaphorical conjunction (creating new meaning via imaginative leaps of conjunction when no other interpretative strategy is available) is insufficient when looking at Fisher's work. Given that her images have been described as creating an asymbolic visual language (Jon Thompson in Fisher, 1999), Fisher's work takes us to the border of what is communicable: the memories and meanings are encrypted, and we lack the metaphors and password(s) that would allow us access. If Fisher's work is an attempt to abandon representation via representational technologies (e.g. photography, sculptural objects, language), what are the implications for how metaphor does and doesn't 'work'?
This paper will address this question by considering two key issues: Firstly, the temporal crisis of the collapse of metaphor (that there is no time when meanings can coincide to create syllogistic analogies and metaphorical links) - something alluded to in Fisher's work on the breakdown of history and memories and the importance of hysterical time (Kristeva, 2012). Secondly, the dissolution of ontological forms when meaningful conjunction cease. With a 'bad infinite' of continually deferred meaning in metaphorical links (when faced with things that we struggle to say or think) creativity becomes not the creation of new things and new thoughts, but pure exhaustion. With the interruption of meaningful conjunction - the inability to create metaphors - we are left only with fragmenting misconnections. In essence, we don't know how to make or create futures because we lack the structures and forms to invent new modes of being in the world or new ways of being with others.
Faced with such a pessimistic summary, this paper concludes with the proposal that it is only via work like Fisher's (work which is attentive to the failures of history and meaning) that we can experience our weakened, now barely human, aesthetic sensibility. In the moment of multiple crises - when coherent, meaningful, directed human language fails - could the 'poor metaphors' of Fisher's asymbolic language actually give us a form for 'speaking' about those things that we cannot, currently, say?