The object and contemporary thoughts in 1987 from an article by Luke Gibbons in CIRCA

Notes I Have Made From Peripheral Vision, an article by Luke Gibbons, Circa Art Magazine, no. 35 July/August 1987.

I came across this article accidentally the other day, the whole thing is worth quoting but I am just going to pick out a few bits that seem relevant to where I am now.


“When the universal pretension of high modernism were revealed as Coca Cola in disguise, the search was on for a new source of integrity and value to legitimize contemporary art.”
He continues how Ireland’s role, at the periphery of world art, gives a piquancy and ‘native imagination’ to the jaded palette force-fed on international modernism.  It is refreshing to see provincialism as something positive rather than a derogatory term.

          “One of the ways in which universal aspirations were given concrete form in abstract expressionism was, as we have seen, the suppression of content, and all reference to the external world.  A painting, to adapt Archibald Mac Leish, should not mean but be.  Like the mythic cowboy or frontiersman paintings represented nothing but simply stood for themselves.  It was this prospect of concentrated vision, of an object freed from meaning (and by extension language) which allowed critics like Greenberg to argue that under high modernism, paintings achieved a ‘presence’, a kind of irreducible ‘aura’, which prevented their appropriation as commodities.”

He continues how abstraction by Irish artists is influenced by the ‘linguistic’ basis of Irish cultural identity even its non-verbal forms.


He Quotes Tanya Kiang’s discussion of Umberto Eco’s The Name Of The Rose, which addresses itself to where language ends and the visual begins.

     “Eco himself is probably the foremost theoretical exponent of this problem, and in his work on semiotics, he argues that, in the last resort, even pictorial representation does not escape through the nets of language, but in encoded within a signifying system.”

Kiang continues that in novels the narrative and word has primacy over the image, the setting is invested with meaning so by resisting interpretation, refusing to act on signs, the investigative strategies of the (male) protagonist is frustrated.  When the novel is transferred to cinema the plenitude of images pulls in one direction, suspending the progression of the action to satisfy our desire for spectacle, while the narrative seeks to get on with the story.  The visual surplus of the ‘authenticating’ details – the settings, costumes, surface textures,- upsets the narrative economy of the film.

She continues that significantly it is the sensual presence of women which intrudes most on the action,  with the camera savouring every redundant detail  She quotes from William Adso’s master that “whatever happened in the kitchen has no bearing on our investigations”.  It is as if women by conniving in visual pleasure, have no part to play in any narrative.

I must look up all this but it seems to connect with Cindy Sherman who is an artist that will feature in my thesis and my practice this year.


Gibbons continues:

          ”Women in Vermeer’s pictures are silent and composed, and thus appear to be removed from language, but invariably they are engaged in reading or writing.  As in one of Cindy Sherman’s ‘film stills’ we get a glimpse of an unknown narrative, a kind of clandestine meaning which eludes the boundaries of the frame.”

In Pat Murphy’s film Anne Devlin and the film of The Name of the Rose a series of tableau effects impedes the flow of the ‘master narrative’ yet are not just visual excess. They are dramatic hieroglyphs, which escape the notice of those who take them for granted, but are positively inscrutable to the outside who wish to force them to give up their secrets.  The movement of the film from word to image, narrative to spectacle, may echo Greenberg’s ideal of unalloyed vision, except that silence is not a refusal but rather a condensation, an intensification, of meaning.

Luke Gibbons is particularly interested in the developing interface between the ‘traditional’ visual arts and contemporary visual media.  I think that is one of the directions I am exploring.



Notes for me to further explore:

Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose

Pat Murphy Anne Devlin

Tanya Kiang

Whatever happened in the kitchen has no bearing on our investigations


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