“The first stage in this undertaking will be to carry over the principle of montage into history. That is, to assemble large-scale constructions out of the smallest and most precisely cut components. Indeed to discover in the analysis of the small individual moment the crystal of the total event.”
--Walter Benjamin, “Convolute N,” Arcades Project
This work is an attempt at image-based historiography. Building on formal innovations in criticism practiced by Modernist cultural theorists such as Benjamin, Adorno, Kracauer, and Bloch, I have been developing methods of “image-based criticism”—what I'm calling “image criticism” following the one-word injunction delivered in one of Benjamin's scattered “theses” : Bilderkritik --i.e., criticism not of but through images. My work is shaped by another experimental form, the Denkbild, or “thought-image.” Denkbild is the name Benjamin gave to a series of short (largely still untranslated) critical fragments; it is the form he employs in One Way Street, the form Adorno adopts in Minima moralia. Adorno analyzes the form in an essay on One Way Street and defines the Denkbild as part thought, part language, part image, and part dream.
Important for this montage attempt at an image-history of the first decade of the 21st century is Benjamin's derivation of the term Denkbild from the Dutch word for emblem, that quintessential baroque hybrid of text and image, combining inscriptio, pictura, and subscriptio. On one level, this work is composed as an emblem, with the uppermost text serving as the inscriptio, or title, the main body of the work as the allegorical pictura, and the bottommost text as the exegetical subscriptio. This latter text consists in Benjamin’s famous conception of the “Angel of History” from his Theses on the Philosophy of History, in which he offers an allegorical reading of the drawing by Paul Klee in his personal collection. So on another level, this work consists in a Klebbild (collage) of Benjamin’s Denkbild of Klee’s Bild. In the spirit of Benjamin’s famous plan to produce a work consisting exclusively in quotations, this work undertakes an assemblage of found text and image that explores how the principle of montage may be extended to traditionally text-based fields of historiography, sociology, ethnography, cultural, social, and political criticism-- how montage, as a principle of composition and strategic presentation, can communicate scholarly research, conceptual and theoretical knowledge through images alone and without recourse to words. As Benjamin states of the Arcades Project: "The method is montage," “I need say nothing. Only show.”
Materially, this work consists in hundreds of hand-cut images culled from Reuters photo archive that document historical events from September 11th, to the wars in Iraq, from the destruction of Jenin to Abu Graib, from G.W. Bush’s State of the Union Address, to Guantanamo, to Berlusconi’s victory celebration. Materials also include cut money, cut up theory books and newspapers, ink, black tea, and glue.
I present the collage with an accompanying map, and by using the grid overlay the viewer can pinpoint particular images or text and then consult the accompanying "legend" to identify the historical and textual events depicted in each of the images, or text fragments.