The Reality Is Not Conveyed

February, 2011

In Precarious Life, Judith Butler writes, "The reality is not conveyed by what is represented within the image, but through the challenge to representation that reality delivers." As I set up my drawing machine to reproduce the images from Abu Ghraib, I had that problem in mind.

On the one hand, our situation demands a certain accountability to the circumstances depicted in the images we are shown. And on the other, the reproduction of those very images can never be adequate to their referent. The tools and methods of aesthetic practice, stylization, abstraction, etc. – up to aestheticization itself – can even appear to bear some culpability for being a distraction from the task of ending what is depicted, by providing the object for a gawking fascination.

But the possibility exists as well, that if the aesthetic image can somehow suggest its very inadequacy – something that for the mundane photograph might be impossible for all its normalizing and naturalizing effects – then perhaps it might have some political value.