Cai Guo-Qiang, Self-Portrait: A Subjugated Soul, 1985/89
From the first time encountering this image, the associations with a handful concepts were inescapable. In one fell swoop, ideas of subjectivity, energy, temporality, the trace, eventality, halos, and (most interestingly) incandescence glisten in the flow of attention when standing before the Qiang’s image.
Multiple passages from Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Experience of Freedom speak to this flash of bundled energy in the act of taking-place or becoming that Qiang’s self-rendering seems to record. In one particular instance, Nancy writes of the ontological dimensions of freedom’s flare (82):
…freedom is itself nothingness, which does not negate itself properly speaking, but which, in an pre-or paradialectical figure of the negation of negation, affirms itself by making itself intense.
The intensification of the nothingness does not negate its nothing-ness: it concentrates it, accumulates the tension of the nothingness as nothingness (hollowing out the abyss, we cold say…), and carries it to the point of incandescence where it takes on the burst of an affirmation. With the burst–lightning and bursting, the burst of lightning–it is the strike of one time, the existing irruption of existence.
This radiance occurs at the border between the formless being that lays beyond representation and representations of humanity that take on a determinate form or another. It is the most basic point of our existence where ontological and ethical categories blur and come into play with each other.
Qiang’s gesture shows a trace of a human being that at a point in time glistens with a particular intensity, radiates heat and energy, and warps and bends the field around him. At some points the halo surrounding the figure crackles with electric flashes whose ardor match that of the body.
In the halo’s dark singes it is difficult to determine whether each ray is a wayward flash straying outward from the body or if the body is attempting to collect loose bits of energy from the surrounding environment to concentrate and make possible that blinding flash of light that burns the parchment of our world. The halo allows itself to radiate and dissipate outwards in a faint light to reveal the dark, unknown form that captivates our attention.
Cross-posted at the brand-new tirado/thrown tumblr. Be sure to visit there, too!