I find myself returning to Ramón Williams’ photograph “The Iceberg” (2013). It is a rather simple composition, but one that builds a strange and uncanny sense of place. It liberates a vista, but it cut through a solid structure that forecloses the horizon with a harsh juxtaposition. This rocky texture becomes one with the sea. Interior and exterior, forefront and background appear at a level of proximity that the movement of de-structuring assists in framing. Williams’ picture draws us towards a non-object: the very possibility of view. It is an experiment with a sense of surface that recalls another geological time; a sense that all too quickly recoils back to earth. It puts us near the matter of view. By liberating the eye, a clear sense of the world takes place.
Now, to be moved in an epoch of closure means that we narrow on the constraint. This is Williams’ challenge: the all too rocky surface bestows a sense of distance, and thus, an outside. This is no longer an abstraction of the medium or an effect of ‘theatricality’. Presumably, all of that is dissolved under the condition of the view. We are standing somewhere; not precisely in water, nor in the city. “The Iceberg” is a farewell to the metropolis at the moment in which desertion is no longer an aspiration but a taking place. There is no horizon and no time either leaving or coming. We are in a lapsus of inhabiting a fragment of the world. Here I experience the outside. Is not this what remains on the other side of the unmoved? I take this to be the question prompted by Williams’ picture.
I want this photograph to speak to me about desertion from the world unmoved. We can recall that Agamemnon uses a specific word to describe his conundrum: lipanous. Specifically, he asks: “How should I become a deserter (pōs liponaus genōmai)?” As it has been explained, the condition of lipanous is not just anyone, but a deserter from a ship. It is no longer how I can lead myself astray from the tasks of the heedless navigator, nor if I can pretend to be an ally in a ship possessed by a silent mutiny. The lipanous, on the contrary, moves beyond alliance and helpless dissensus towards a movement that experiences the clear. This means that the task of a deserter in thought is facilitated by the view. It is no longer language as an exteriority of things; it is how things become irreducible to the language in a decentered image without objects. Whereas in the city I can identify volumes; as a lipanous I am granted a new vision.
Here poetry assists us in a movement towards self-recension. Jana Prikyl writes in a wonderful verse: “Appian way, autobahn – those folks’ wildest dreams too were escape routes.” Obviously, these roads cannot longer prepare a flight. The Appian road and autobahn are civilizational tracks of a world now lost. This is at the heart of Williams’ craft: the course of de-civilization begins with lipanous at the level of the most apparent; not in the sea and most definitively not at ground level. Prikyl writes in the next verse: “with maybe a girl in evening dress waking onboard that takes vision.”
This little thought experiment doubles Williams’ phototactic concern by asking the following: how do we take a vision of a lighted world as a natural element for inclination? What ‘moves’ here is no longer the instantaneous stimulus of the waking to the vision. It is a via di uscita. But a vision of a particular kind, in which I am forced to be a deserter – chipped from the mast of the world into the melody with the true things (étuma).
*Image: Ramón Williams, “The Iceberg” (2013).
One last note from the art historian. Ramon’s work is nothing short of an artist who carries on an important tradition of graphic art in Cuba, that goes back to the 50s and that short-lived but effervescent abstract moment. This image goes beyond the simple binary contrast between the verticality of the modern city and the horizontality of the litoral, as a metaphor for insularity or the linear passing of time. What is at stake here is also more complex than the dychtomous state of visibility and invisibility of the Iceberg, which is the perspective from a boat floating on the water. This is a dynamic and multi-layered process, where there are numerous and never quite fathomable unfoldings.
Gerardo, thank you for introducing me to the work of Ramón. What a gem! I agree with you that the photograph’s destabilizing effect evokes the experience of the deserter. The sharp and slightly diagonal line dividing the composition into upper and lower surfaces, slightly alters the horizontality of the panoramic view. It is a simple composition only in the sense that Ramón is here playing with lines and yet producing strong effects, altering the multiple planes and perspectives in order to dissarrange the spatial order of the framing that always stabilizes the view. So yes, we definitely feel in that lipanous, as our vision is set on the contradiction of standing on solid and yet unstable grounds. This suddenly brought back a memory: the motion sickness I experienced at Arrowhead in Massachusetts. Except that here this effect is caused by the shifting of the tectonic plates, as you have very well noted.
What is striking to me is that in spite of this thick and rocky foundation, reinforced by old and rusty beams, the city appears to float in an almost invisible line that can hardly keep sky and ocean separate. We very well know those cloudy days of bad weather, not the dazzling ones in the postcards and advertisement, when the air takes that tone which is no yet gray, and appears to be imbued with the particles of disintegrating stone. It is this separation and distance, the very sharpness of the cut, what finds a way to free the city, to make it intangible and unattainable, an effect that is immediately confronted and crushed by the other cut, that which exposes a granular and concrete eroding surface. I am still trying to figure out what is exactly the thing that this underground structure falling appart in sudden partitions and breaks is trying to uphold? Why is this foundation still there when the place is already drifting, becoming fata morgana, anywhere everywhere?
Beneath that colossal monument whose interior is now fully exposed, as it can no longer hide the fragile infrastructure of its holding, is rushing in what appears to be a stream of sandy mud, an eroding force that has, ironically, a slightly similar tint and texture to everything above. This stratum of sedimentary soil or undercurrent magma that has slowly and barely entered the frame is perhaps what we might want to consider an infrapolitical force.
P – wow, these are all incredible observations. I can only cut through them. It definitely calls for a revision and update of my little note. Or a collaboration for a future text? I think that RW work deserves more attention than what it has recieved. Now, of course, I cannot speak as an art historian, although as you know I take strolls around those margins. So, yes, the composition is and is not basic, which makes me question the fact that perhaps the first ‘via du uscita’ takes place here: in the composition as grounding but decentering. That movement is not dialectical in any sort of way, but just revealing. It poses a diagram, like in Bacon, but only to free from it. Or at least that is how I want to look at it. In the same way that there is no outside to the metropolis in a topological way; Williams’ composition within that transversal wants to allocate an exit from within. Something like this. How? Your second point, which I agree with: “ this separation and distance, the very sharpness of the cut, what finds a way to free the city”. This goes to the heart of the composition too, but I never thought of it in terms of distance as cut, but I think you are right. The physics of the cut in the world that I am trying to think through has distance as its condition. Later this condition allows for an encounter, although not in this sequence necessarily. Metropolitan recursivity is the thought of sequence. Distance cannot be a mimesis of this. Finally, to your last point on infrapolitics is very beautiful, because you denote both flux and detention; a sort of tabular planar movement that creates reliefs in the bedding planes of a mountain. This “force” (without force) is the innaparent. But the innaparent creates a “relief” in the world that barely makes it in, as you say. A relief is not a trace; it is a thing. Isn’t this the time of existence? And it is never inside, but is the experience of the outside itself. I think it is wonderful that you mention it, because the question of the relief was going to be my next stop in this series. I appreciate you attentiveness in observing all of these things. Let’s continue the exchange. G
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