Echoes of contingency
Echoes are (un)anticipated responses from a future self.
A contingent preposition is neither true nor false – and yet a contingency is a potential future reality – often of grim consequences.
Images are creations reaching for the future.
They offer themselves to vision.
And once seen they dissolve into echoes of a self-reflection that lends itself to a historical consciousness. 1
The echo image is a reflection blurring the boundaries between subject and world.
A vision that at one and the same time originates from the world and from somewhere else.
A vision that answers our questions in a voice belonging to ourselves and someone not exactly ourselves.
It is a cyclical unfolding that reaches beyond the search for verification and instead puts us in contact with the unknown.
It is a generative behaviour that however abstract or concrete depict our world – the subjective as well as the collective – the conscious as well as the unconscious. 2
Echoes of contingency investigates the possibility for images to resonate as such impermanent echoes of the world.
The project began as an intuitive visual exploration. Trying to conduct a visual philosophy inspired by the thoughts of philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I started to investigate whether a compulsive production of imagery might reveal to my own questions or conscious/unconscious feelings about a world that of a world that increasingly has been feeling out of balance to me.
Covered by special made filters, which only allow the viewer to see the images when standing directly in front of them, the works fluctuate between the visible / invisible. Each image is isolated in its own private sphere denying the spectator the opportunity to see the works in their collective entirety. Instead, the images compel the viewers to engage with the echoes of their own memory and imagination.
Søren Lilholt is a Danish artist living and working in Copenhagen. He has studied at Fatamorgana, The Danish School of Art Photography and holds a MA in Visual Culture from the University of Copenhagen. Attracted to the seemingly incomprehensible and the subtle ability of photography to alter perception, his practice is deeply rooted in a phenomenological approach to photography and visuality – a process that aims at delving deep into a perceptual openness towards the world. His work has been published in Der Greif, exhibited at The Spring Exhibition at Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, and in 2019 he was chosen as one of the emerging Danish photographers to exhibit at the annual exhibition Young Danish Photography at Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen.
Yuliya: During our research for the project, we have talked about the concept of the Atlas and your inspiration from Aby Warburg and George Didi-Huberman. In terms of this gaze towards the future that is central to our project: How do you think the Atlas of images can predict the future?
Søren: I think an important part of the way we think about the concept of the Atlas relating to Aby Warburg is its inherent ability to always transform or always reach forward. A very important part of the Atlas is to look through history in a vertical way and see how different themes, symptoms or symbols re-emerge in a very non-linear and anachronistic way.
I think that the concept of the Atlas offers a different way of thinking about images and photography: images are actually just at the beginning of their lives at the moment they are created. They reach forward – and not only tell us about the past. I think images in this way inherently contain the possibility to reveal larger structures of social memory and imaginary. So I wouldn’t say that they can predict the future, but they definitely reach for the future.
But the big difference between the archive and the Atlas is that at least historically you would look at the archive as a structuring of knowledge or as a construction of knowledge that is unified or fixated and often very historically linear, whereas the Atlas is a way to try and present visual links that are very far apart or distant from each other historically – so the linear structure evaporates and then you look at visual thought structures in a way that transverses throughout history. It is about how images evolve or small traces of visuality take on new meanings or engage in new contexts. So the Atlas deals more with the perpetual possibility for recombination and reinterpretation of images.
I think the Atlas brings us closer to touching this ungraspable area of imagination and creativity – the imaginary magma of the real, as I think philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis called it.
Yuliya: It’s interesting that you use the word echo in your title because it’s something that at the same time is in the now and in the future or in the distance.
Søren: When you look for the possibilities in images instead of what they verify, then sometimes they will reveal traces to you that you didn’t know where there. And these new traces of meaning can evolve over time from your own consciousness.
In the description of my project I say: “images become echoes of self-reflection that lends itself to historical consciousness”. What I mean is that if you think about an echo, it is something like an anticipated response. If you are in a place you know produces echoes and you shout out something, you will already anticipate an answer coming back to you. So in the moment you shout out, you are already prepared for the answer that lies in the future, and you know that the voice answering you will be your own. But the voice and answer still feels detached from you – it sort of feels like it comes from someone else. And some of the words in the echo might get muffled out, so something has changed just a little bit. And I think of images in the same way. When I create images, I feel that they come back to me in a way that I can’t fully control.
Yuliya: You made me think about the connection with Margherita’s work and her work with the palimpsest. These different layers of information and knowledge and its connection to this physical layer as well. Like images are a way to conduct this knowledge or imagination about the world.
Søren: Yes. And the way that Margerita’s works are enclosed in wax and become sort of alive because of this very organic material – I see this as a very direct way of also pointing to the lives of images that I’m talking about.
Margherita: I think the word echo that you use is a perfect word for it, because it is really about something that you cannot fully control and it plays on something jumping back to you.
Yuliya: I’m also wondering about this contingency or anxiety that are a part of your project. Do you somehow associate the future with this feeling of anxiety?
Søren: I thought of this contingency because of the images I had made. The images for the project were made in a very intuitive or compulsive way. And when I looked through the images – thinking of them as these echoes – I felt that they all had this almost uncanny, claustrophobic feel to them. They felt almost ill-boding and so I thought about this word: “contingency”. A contingent preposition is something that is not definitely true nor definitely false, and I liked that in relation to the images, because I felt they vibrated between the real and the unreal. Also, contingency is a preparation for something that might happen in the future, which is almost always something bad. So I liked this double meaning and uncertainty connected with the word.
Yuliya: What’s your opinion on the role of the viewer as an actor of an artistic work ?
As you use privacy filters in your installation, it is a very different way than just to expose your images as the Atlas on the wall. This installation makes the viewer engage physically with the work and also questions what is visible and invisible. And, by the way, why use these filters?
Søren: I think the simplest way to explain it is that I wanted the movement or engagement of the viewer to be the thing that made the images unfold or come to life. I think that it always takes the eyes of the viewer and their whole imaginary to unfold any image – but I wanted to really emphasize this and I felt that could be done with these filters, as they give the images the possibility to shut down and unfold or be born into visuality again and again. They only come to life in relation to the movement of the one who perceives them. Another thing I thought about working with the filters was in relation to the way that they enclose each image in its own private sphere in a way. So you can’t see the whole collection of images at once, which generally is the way you exhibit images in connection with these theories about the Atlas or archives and so on.
Warburg’s own plates, for example, consisted of a lot of small images presented together. But when looking at these constellations of images as a viewer you tend to see the collection of images as a whole or almost as one big image, which will generate meaning – but while the different constellations of imagery and the way they are linked certainly are at the heart of understanding how images work in this Atlas-minded way of dealing with visuality, I wanted to emphasize that there lies an important aspect in the potential of a single image and that it isn’t only contained within a bigger constellation, but also always has the possibility to break out from the constellations and form new meanings and connections.
As each image shuts down or encloses on itself as the viewer passes by, the viewer will have to bring their own memory and imagination in play to stitch all of the images together. I also thought about this in relation to contemporary visual culture. The way we engage with images most of the time today through smartphones and computers and stuff like that means we have this vast archive of images of all sorts at our disposal all the time and we can make them all pop up on the same screen or within the same frame in a way. This, I think, both grants images a great generative power – not very unlike the Atlas way of thinking about images – but it also has a danger of blurring out the acknowledgment that images also have discursive boundaries. So there is this tension between the possibility for generating knowledge and the loss of awareness of the contextualization of images.