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Investigations: The Expanded Field of Writing in the Works of Robert Morris

 | 
Katia Schneller
, 
Noura Wedell

II. The Text/Image Problem under Investigation

Politics of Blindness: Robert Morris’ Antivision

Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro

Texte intégral

Scotomic Archive of Modernity

  • 1 W.J.T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing. A Critique of Visual Culture,” in What Do Pictures Want?: The Li (...)
  • 2 Georgina Kleege, Sight Unseen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); “Blindness and Visual Cult (...)
  • 3 Jacques Derrida, Donner la mort (Paris: Galilée, 1999).

1Through the cycle of renewal and settling that has marked recent years in visual culture studies, a school of thought has emerged which, reversing what in principle seems to be the object of this “discipline,” focuses its efforts on examining and reflecting upon what escapes vision. Taking as a point of departure W.J.T. Mitchell’s affirmation that the object of visual culture is not exhausted in the visible, but rather extends to “blindness, the invisible, the unseen, the unseeable, and the overlooked,”1 theorists such as Georgina Kleege, Akira M. Lippit or Malcolm Bull,2 to mention only a few, converge upon a series of issues that share an interest in what extends beyond the visible. They address that which is not perceived, the barely perceptible and even up to the imperceptible: visual disabilities, blindness, the haptic, the audible, that which is hidden, camouflaged, veiled, immaterial, infra-visible or that which has disappeared. It is the space that Jacques Derrida calls the invisible-visible: that which, without being plainly visible, always remains, nonetheless, within the order of visibility, constitutively visible.3

  • 4 Concerning this issue, see David M. Levin, ed., Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision (Berkeley/Los (...)

2The core thesis that emanates from the majority of these proposals—although each initiates a particular discourse—is that this series of “shadow optics”—to use Lippit’s term—functions to create sites of alternative scopic regimes opposed to the hegemony of the visible and the ocularcentrism of modernity.4 They are regimes of resistance that expose the faults of modern vision and, consequently, of any system constructed on luminous epistemologies.

  • 5 Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996).

3As Jonathan Crary has highlighted, throughout the nineteenth century, the Western world was witness to an unprecedented revolution in the field of vision.5 An essential change occurred in what we will call, following Michel Foucault, the “visual archive”—the “law” of what can be seen, formed by the interpenetration of technology, power, subjectivity and knowledge. The change is characterized by the emergence of a new status of observation after the gradual abandon of the cognitive model of the camera obscura, which promoted a de-corporalized onlooker, fixed and monocular, in favour of other procedures based on the physiology of the eye and body of the observer. Advances in technology, physiological optics and even the history of ideas contributed to a drastic change in ways of looking at the world, and, particularly, in the modes of visual knowledge. This drastic change might be summarized as a kind of crisis of visual truth.

4In very broad outlines, the characteristics of this scopic archive can be reduced to two. First, the eye gradually proves itself an insufficient tool for knowing the world. The technologies of vision (from photography to medical imagery) demonstrate that there are things that the eye can not see (the optical unconscious to which Walter Benjamin referred). The eye ceases to be the privileged instrument of knowledge and access to truth.

5Second, advances in technology and knowledge about vision also reveal the possibility that the eye can be an object of deceit and manipulation. Accumulated knowledge about vision made evident the real limits of human perception (its failures, such as for example, saccadic perception) and the way in which the eye could be normalized and docilized.

6In this way, the new visual archive is characterized by the ineludible presence of a blind spot, a visual scotoma, something that cannot be known by the eye itself. This “law” is articulated in two ways: through discrediting the eye and by means of a distrust of the visual. I have observed elsewhere how, from the same visual archive, there emerge two scopic regimes or two apparently contrasted sites: a dominant regime and a regime of resistance. In the face of the certainty of the eye’s insufficiency, there emerges a regime of light that takes advantage of the docility of the gaze and that, little by little, configures the society of the spectacle; and a regime of shadows, that distrusts all that is visible and proposes alternate models of visibility.

  • 6 Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), trans. Alan Sheridan, Discipline an (...)
  • 7 Guy Debord, La société du spectacle (Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1967), trans. Fredy Perlman, Jon Supak (...)

7The first of these regimes tries to take advantage of the insufficiency of vision. It does this through the strategy of the ellipsis—the illusion of continuity—and tries, by all means, to pretend that this insufficiency does not exist and that vision is a totality. Through light, it avoids the shadows of the gaze. It could be said that the regime of light attempts to “correct” and “expand,” by means of illusion, the primary fault of vision. From the outset, this regime of the docility of the gaze tries to conceal precisely this aforementioned obedience, exposing everything, omitting faults, eliminating down times, silences. A regime of continuous repetition, it ceaselessly tries to fill the vacuums by means of merchandises, objects and images. It is a regime of plenitude that is based, on the one hand, on the search for transparency, pure visuality and the vigilance of the panopticon as established by Foucault;6 and, on the other, on the spectacularization and transformation of reality into image, in “place of the deceived gaze,” exactly as Guy Debord indicated in The Society of the Spectacle.7

  • 8 Foucault sustains that, against every dominant regime, there always emerges a regime of resistance (...)

8The second site of the insufficiency of vision enables an alternative scopic regime, a regime of resistance.8 Unlike the regime of light, that tries to conceal the deficiency of vision, this regime of shadows tries to expose precisely that blind spot of the gaze, the scotoma that arises from the confirmation of the visible’s untranslatability. In this “scotomic” regime, the crisis of visual truth, the idea that sight is no longer sufficient, does not attempt to conceal itself, but strives on the contrary to be exposed. Thus, against the regime of light appears a regime of shade and visual skepticism, revealing the insufficiency of sight, the shadow of the gaze. Against transparency, it presents opacity; against light, darkness; against perfect translatability, illegibility; against chatter, silence; against plenitude, emptiness; against entirety, the fragment. It is a regime of deficiency that shows that sight is not enough, that appearance is deceptive, that there is more than what we see, and what we see is not all there is.

  • 9 Miguel Á. Hernández-Navarro, Más allá del ocularcentrismo: Antivisión en el arte contemporáneo, un (...)
  • 10 Rosalind Krauss, “Antivision,” October, vol. 37 (Spring 1986), pp. 147-154.

9The whole face of modern and contemporary art, through a variety of strategies and not always in a conscious way, responds with an implementation of this “scotomic” regime of resistance to the new ocularcentrism of vigilance and the spectacle, attempting to present what it conceals, what it does not show, its damned part.9 It would be possible to chart a history of modern and contemporary art through the analysis of these artistic practices that, with Rosalind Krauss, we could call anti-visual.10 This history would follow strategies or tactics of “blindness” whose presence can be tracked throughout the whole of the twentieth century, like a correlate to the denigration of the gaze of which Martin Jay speaks with respect to philosophy. The forms of the anti-visual are varied: from Malevich’s monochromatic reduction to the miniaturizations of Liliana Porter or Cildo Meireles, from Duchamp’s works of dust and air to the literal dematerializations of Yves Klein or Teresa Margolles, from the concealment and camouflage of a certain surrealism to the concealment and obstruction of Santiago Sierra, or from Francesca Woodman’s attempt at disappearance to Jochen Gerz’s poetics of ash.

  • 11 This is something that we find, in one way or another, from early to late texts. See Robert Morris (...)

10With this text, I wish to observe how the work of Robert Morris constitutes one of the most convincing and articulated implementations of this regime of shadows. Morris’ work is peppered with anti-visual references, with the metaphor of blindness present in the Blind Time Drawings being only the most direct and literal allusion to this issue. Throughout his work, however, we also come across the presence of text, sound, mirrors, mazes, imprints, vacuums, concealment and even desubstantiation. These are elements that take the work of art beyond the limits of vision. Morris’ articles and interviews, even at a quick glance, are teeming with constant references to a conscious rejection of vision: “iconophobia,” “blindness,” “visual anorexia,” “suspicion of the image.”11

  • 12 Annette Michelson, “Robert Morris: An Aesthetics of Transgression,” in Robert Morris, ex. cat., 19 (...)
  • 13 Rosalind Krauss, “The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in Series,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body (...)
  • 14 W.J.T. Mitchell, “Wall Labels: Word, Image, and Object in the Work of Robert Morris,” in Robert Mo (...)
  • 15 Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s (New York: Harper & Row, 1989 (...)

11One way or another, art criticism has provided an account of the presence of the anti-visual in Morris’ work. Many critical studies on the artist have lingered on this rejection of vision, although often in the context of other arguments: the presence of the body, language, memory, anti-form. From Annette Michelson’s early circumscriptions12 to the celebrated ones of Rosalind Krauss,13 via the intelligent vision of W.J.T. Mitchell14 and the political criticism of Maurice Berger,15 to mention just a few, the vocabulary of art criticism has also grown replete with metaphors telling of an attack on vision and of the rejection of the image. However, the question of the anti-visual, in itself, as a way of approaching Morris’ work, has not been discussed in a completely satisfactory manner. In spite of the aforementioned fact that practically all of the critics have touched on the issue, it continues to be one worth studying in detail, for a careful analysis will disclose many keys to Morris’ artistic practice.

  • 16 Jean-Pierre Criqui, “Drawing from the Heart of Darkness: Robert Morris’s Blind Time,” in Jean-Pier (...)
  • 17 Ibid., p. 12.

12Perhaps one of the few to have discussed the problem decisively and directly is Jean-Pierre Criqui. In his introduction to the Blind Time Drawings, Criqui placed these drawings as part of a body of work articulated upon a “reduction of the optical function (as an essential element of the creative act, but also, for the beholder, as an aspect of contemplation and of its related pleasure), out of a kind of devaluation of what Duchamp stigmatized as the ‘retinal.’”16 Criqui’s argument is that the suspension of the gaze that takes place for a few moments in the Blind Time Drawings can be extended to all of Morris’ production, characterized by a rupture with the predominance of the ocular so fundamental to modernism. Morris’ works after his abandon of painting are distinguished by a deception of the look, “an apparent withdrawing of visuality, a marked tendency towards ‘not much to see.’”17 Criqui goes on to see the rupture of pure visuality in Morris’ use of language, writing, the movement toward the acoustic, the introduction of real time in production, the elimination of the ocular image in his self-portraits, the obstruction of the gaze in his Photo Cabinets or the dispersion and distortion of vision in mirrors. And of course, in a literal way, in the meditation on blindness that takes place in the Blind Time Drawings.

13Following the path shown by Criqui, which, as I have said, adds to that initiated by many others, I would argue that the meditation on sight and blindness present throughout Morris’ work hinges on a double articulation. If carefully observed, not all blindnesses have the same meaning. There are blindnesses and blindnesses. It could be said that Morris’ anti-vision goes “against” two visions: the modernist vision and vision itself. On the one hand, Morris’ work articulates an attack against the optical paradigm of modernism. On the other, his work proposes strategies for supplanting the privileged hegemony of the sense of sight as a tool for knowing the world. The first attack is shared by a majority of art produced since the sixties. The second embodies a concern that is common to the whole face of modern thought, the recognition of vision’s obsolescence as responsible for the universe that surrounds us. The two attacks are related however, since modernist optics are one site of modernity’s ocularcentrism.

Restoring Impurity

  • 18 Martin Jay, “Returning the Gaze: The American Response to the French Critique of Ocularcentrism,” (...)

14Morris’ work presents itself as a rejection of modernism, refusing its paradigm of visual purity and everything it entails. As has been highlighted on more than one occasion, this rejection is common to much artistic production since the early sixties, and is shared by the neo-avant-garde. In his study of the demolition of modernist ocularcentrism and “the attack against the idea of pure opticality” in the latter third of the twentieth century, Martin Jay indicated three fundamental categories under which the new artistic practices attack the sense hierarchy instituted in academic modernism: “one that stresses the importance of language as opposite to perception; one that highlights the forgotten role of the body; and another that stresses the political implications of certain visual practices.”18 These issues—language, body and politics—characterize much of the art of the second half of the sixties as it reacted against the pure visuality of modernist thought epitomized by Clement Greenberg. They appear synthesized and expressed in the work of Morris and others concerned with the reversal of ocularcentrism.

15First of all, the body is a constant in Morris’ work. This is evident in the way that the real and ordinary body is assessed in his choreographies and performances, and in how the body of the onlooker figures in the sculptural works, in the gestalt forms of minimalism. And, of course, it clearly appears in the imprints and traces of the body in his lead works and of his hands in the drawings, in the body molds in the hydrocal works, as well as in the self-portraits made with the organs, the excesses or energetic impulses of the body. The body can be present or absent, but it always constitutes a structuring element of the work. Morris’ use of the body breaks with the disembodied perception of modernism, which functioned as a replica of the divine eye perceiving the world in its entirety, remaining at a remove from the world that it perceived. Morris “stains” the field of vision through the body, imprinting a field that can only be visible in its entirety if the body is cancelled.

16Second, there is the presence of language. Greenbergian modernism banished from art all trace of narration, story or content, anything that was not purely optical and visual. Language referred to something more than the optical specificity of painting and sculpture. It was conceived as one of the forms of impurity and contamination par excellence. Morris’ work fought against the expulsion of language from the outset, and introduced it into the space of the visual in the most diverse ways. In the early Memory Drawings, he did this through the almost pictorial presence of the “word” and the transformation of the work itself into writing. One of his most widely used strategies was the coexistence of writing and image, as can be appreciated in the Blind Time Drawings and the Investigations series. Language is also introduced in its oral dimension: voice and hearing, transformed through the visual in works such as Voice or Hearing (Fig. 40). Perhaps one of the keys to understanding Morris’ art could be found precisely in the relation established between the readable and the visible, between text and image. It is a relation that, undoubtedly, supplants the pure visuality of modernism.

40. Robert Morris, Hearing, 1972. Zinc table, copper chair, lead bed, speakers, wood platform, water, batteries, and three-and-one-half-hour recorded tape, 54 × 144 × 144 inches (137 × 366 × 366 cm).

40. Robert Morris, Hearing, 1972. Zinc table, copper chair, lead bed, speakers, wood platform, water, batteries, and three-and-one-half-hour recorded tape, 54 × 144 × 144 inches (137 × 366 × 366 cm).

Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • 19 See Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s, op. cit.

17Third: politics. Modernism, in its effort to banish everything extraneous to a unique and irreducible artistic experience, of art in general and of the medium in particular, also left out politics. Politics as life, that is, the social order of experience. Life, the “real” world, was one of the biggest threats to modernist critics. Greenberg and Michael Fried conceived an art that avoided being confused and connected with the objects, spaces and times of reality. Faced with this modernist noli me tangere, one of the central tenets of art after modernism became the dissolution of borders between art and life. Morris’ contribution here is inestimable. Maurice Berger has astutely observed Morris’ connection with politics. He has analyzed not only the inclusion of issues such as work, war and money in Morris’ oeuvre, but also the artist’s committed social role, leading protests and exposing institutional involvement in the forces and interests that dominate the social.19

  • 20 Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004).

18Body, language and politics are thus key elements in Morris’ art, inscribed within the movement of artistic protest, in the sixties and seventies, against the hegemony of the pure vision of modernism. Perhaps we should add the issue of time to Martin Jay’s list, as it constitutes a central problem in contemporary artistic thought. Body, language and politics are permeated by the presence of time as the real time of real bodies, the time of language and the time of the social. In comparison, the time of Greenbergian modernism resembled an eternal, atemporal time. Works of art remained separate from the temporality of their production and reception. Modernist works were like ghosts, abiding as intemporal, incorporeal apparitions completely unconnected to the world of life, and subject to chronophobia, as Pamela Lee has suggested.20

  • 21 See Katia Schneller, Robert Morris, sur les traces de Mnémosyne (Paris: ENS/Éditions des archives (...)

19Robert Morris introduces time in his work. His is real time: the time of reception and experience, the time of reading, the time of interpretation. And of course, it is also the time of production, of process, what remained unseen in the modernist image, hidden behind, or underneath, away from the light. Morris’ processual works, but also the objectual ones, give an account of that which is unseen. What results is only a fiction, one out of many possible states, never definitive. Morris’ work has a before and an after. It is enmeshed with the issue of memory,21 with the interval, the lapse, the time out, the time of the interlude, the time beyond vision.

  • 22 Martin Jay, “Modernism and the Retreat From Form,” Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and (...)

20All of these points might be condensed in the notion of “anti-form” and what it implies. If we affirm, as Martin Jay has done, that form and vision are synonymous terms, anti-form will be a mode of anti-vision.22 Breaking the formal, total, fixed, clear and identifiable entity of the work could be understood as a strategy of questioning the purity of vision.

  • 23 W.J.T. Mitchell, “There Are No Visual Media,” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 4, no. 2 (August 200 (...)

21Upon close observation, defaming vision by introducing what modernism had expelled may be seen as “restoring” the “impure” values of art. W.J.T. Mitchell’s declaration that there is no pure medium might be read in this sense.23 The image has always been interlaced with text, politics and the body. The ocularcentric and pure visualist perception of modernism was an artifice, because all perception is impure by nature.

Rupturing the Privileges of Sight

  • 24 See Giorgio Agamben, Profanations (New York: Zone Books, 2007).

22Such anti-vision could be understood as a kind of impurity, an attempt to return to vision and to the image those elements that naturally belong to them and that modernism had removed. If vision in modernism was raised to the rank of the sacred, to an issue of faith, then the impurity of vision is perhaps related to a certain profanation. A profanation in Giorgio Agamben’s sense: the rupture of the most sacred, the making ordinary of that which constitutively belongs to the space of the sacred.24

  • 25 Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes. The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley (...)

23This first anti-vision is, therefore, a kind of profanation and defilement of modernism, a re-establishment of the impurity of vision. Yet Morris’ art also exudes another type of anti-vision: the rupture of the privilege of sight as a way of knowing the world, an epistemological anti-vision. And here, more than impurity, the mechanism used is that of the cut: a shaking, a tear to mobilize the eye and make it conscious of its own failures. It constitutes an attack on the very foundations of knowledge through vision. In a way, Morris’ work is here directly linked to the list of thinkers that Martin Jay calls to in Downcast Eyes: thinkers that suspend the sense of sight and acknowledge the validity of other senses such as touch (Jean-Luc Nancy), hearing (Jacques Derrida) or blindness itself (Georges Bataille).25 These are other ways of knowledge where sight is insufficient, where the eye is of no use for observing a world that, on the one hand, can no longer be known, and on the other, is deceiving. Morris’ strategies for disorienting vision are manifold, but they can be summed down to four: the mirror, obstruction, the labyrinth and voidance.

  • 26 Octavio Armand, Carol Maier, “Robert Morris: Mirage, Reflection (A Small Tribute to Vision),” Octo (...)

24The presence of the mirror in Morris’ works has been widely studied. Nevertheless it is worth mentioning. The mirror in Morris’ work is used to disperse the gaze more than to concentrate it. The mirror works in a centrifugal way: it sends the gaze towards the outside, repels it and returns it. The mirror makes it impossible for the gaze to penetrate it: it exposes its exteriority. As Octavio Armand has indicated, the mirror cuts the gaze as if it were a blade.26

25The way Morris uses the mirror to obstruct the path of the gaze leads us to another strategy: concealment and obstruction. From the Box with the Sound of its Own Making, whose inside is inaccessible, to the cabinets, or even the early columns, Morris’ work blocks the path of sight, as it does in Passageway. It cuts the flow of the gaze, obstructs it, and denies access to it. The anxiety created in the onlooker has to do with the fact that Morris indicates the presence of the thing that is behind the veil of the work. He leaves an imprint of a place where vision should be. As in the fable of Zeuxis and Parrhasius narrated by Pliny, the onlooker wishes to draw back the curtain to find the subject that gives meaning to the work. But the complete meaning is denied. The gaze is always unsatisfied. The desire to see lingers on in time. And the gaze never arrives where it would like to go.

  • 27 See Martin Heidegger, “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,” in Holzwege (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann (...)

26In a transparent society in which everything can be seen and known (according to the fictive logic of the panopticon), Morris insists on breaking the illusion of transparency, showing opaqueness, closing access to absolute knowledge. Morris works almost inversely to Heidegger’s model of the work of art.27 Instead of a “de-concealing” of the truth, Morris “conceals it again,” closing, shutting down the illusion of access to the ultimate meaning of things. His is a “re-concealment.” When considered carefully, this re-concealment also has a lot to do with a game, the game of showing oneself and hiding, fort/da, presence and absence, plenitude and loss.

  • 28 See Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1 (...)

27The mirror and obstruction disorient vision, leaving spectators completely insecure about what is in front of them, inducing uncertainty. This is also the procedure through which the logic of the labyrinth operates, a blindness metaphor par excellence, at least in the sense conferred by Bataille.28 The labyrinth is a place where one gets lost, but also where one finds oneself at the centre. It is a place for loss and reunion. Once again, it is a place of centripetal forces leading into the center towards the encounter, and of centrifugal forces pushing away from the center. But it is a center, when reached, that is nothing but a vacuum, a blind spot of meaning.

28Thus we get to the vacuum or the blind spot, the strategy at the heart of all anti-visual poetics. Mirrors, time, movement, the trace: everything is articulated around a blind spot that Morris conveys time after time. “Blank form” was one of the essential concepts in Morris’ principles, a concept that Morris himself distinguishes from “anti-form.”

  • 29 Annette Michelson, “Frameworks,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem, ex. cat., 1994, pp. 50-6 (...)

29Annette Michelson has examined the issue of frames as central focuses of Morris’ production.29 She talks of the frame as a threshold: the threshold of the look, the place where there is nothing anywhere and, at the same time, everything is everywhere. In works such as Pine Portal, the subject is in the process of finding him or herself but not his or her truth, as if they were gazing in the mirror of Snow White’s stepmother, seeing illusion, or seeing the nihilism of vampire’s mirror that shows death transformed into an image. The mirror of Morris’ threshold reproduces the subject on its surface. Like a reversion of Lacan’s mirror stage, the image of the subject at these thresholds (and in Morris’ mirrors) “de-subjects” the subject, dismantles it, breaks it up, and shows it what it can see: not the nothingness of the vampire or narcissistic illusion, but the pure exteriority of its image multiplied to infinity. That is, it shows that which “stains” the scopic field, but also that which bestows meaning upon it.

  • 30 Robert Morris, “Solecism of Sight: Specular Speculations,” 2003, in Have I Reasons: Work and Writi (...)
  • 31 Ibid., p. 150.

30A video installation such as the Finch College Project (1969) could serve to sum up all that I have mentioned until now. Reflection, time, motion, trace or memory, concealment, and in the middle of it all, a blind spot, a space that cannot be completely inhabited. Morris himself acknowledges it as an “iconoclastic and iconophobic” work: “a work that tried to get rid of the image, suppress it, remove it.”30 It is an attempt to destroy the image; an attempt that is never complete, however. Erasure, the cut, always leaves a mark. It is not a perfect crime. The eye continues to see, although with difficulty. Morris himself affirms: “For us mortals, divine blindness can only be a goal toward which we strive.”31 There is always something that is left over, something that is in the shadow, a sort of “shadowaste.”

Politics of Blindness

31I have left behind many issues on the way. They are left for future, more extensive and in-depth investigations. I would not like, however, to finish this text without a reflection that makes express reference to its title. Both the poetics of blindness as a fight against modernist optics and the epistemology of blindness as a fight against the hegemony of vision can basically be considered forms of politics, a politics of blindness. They represent a political positioning of resistance to hegemonic scopic regimes, regimes that not only concern the look, but also power, control and domination.

  • 32 Maurice Berger, Labyrinths, op. cit. See also Maurice Berger, Minimal Politics. Performativity and (...)
  • 33 Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir, op. cit.
  • 34 Robert Morris, “Solecisms of Sight: Specular Speculations,” 2003, in Have I Reasons: Work and Writ (...)

32Perhaps it was Maurice Berger who best observed Morris’ links with the politics of resistance, particularly through his choreographies.32 In this sense, the political aspect of his work could be summarized as a constant attempt to stand against the established order of the world, an order which, since the seventies, Foucault has illuminated with his archeologies of knowledge and genealogies of power. In a way, Morris’ art provides strategies for conquering the transparency of the panopticon and escaping the logic of domination, control and normalization of bodies that Foucault observed in Discipline and Punish.33 The series of engravings In the Realm of the Carceral (Figs. 41-42) show this interest for vigilance and discipline in our contemporary world where, as Morris himself indicates, “there is now no place to hide.”34

41. Robert Morris, In the Realm of the Carceral: Separate Walkways – The Warders Above, the Immates Below, 1979. Prints, Plate I of a suite of 12 plates, 36.7 × 4.8 inches (93.3 × 12.2 cm). Genève, Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire.

41. Robert Morris, In the Realm of the Carceral: Separate Walkways – The Warders Above, the Immates Below, 1979. Prints, Plate I of a suite of 12 plates, 36.7 × 4.8 inches (93.3 × 12.2 cm). Genève, Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire.

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire, Genève. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

42. Robert Morris, In the Realm of the Carceral: Towers of Silence, 1979. Prints, Plate I of a suite of 12 plates, 36.4 × 4.8 inches (92.5 × 12.09 cm). Genève, Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire.

42. Robert Morris, In the Realm of the Carceral: Towers of Silence, 1979. Prints, Plate I of a suite of 12 plates, 36.4 × 4.8 inches (92.5 × 12.09 cm). Genève, Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire.

Courtesy of Robert Morris and Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire, Genève. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

  • 35 Branden W. Joseph, “The Tower and the Line: Toward a Genealogy of Minimalism,” Grey Room, no. 27 ( (...)
  • 36 Ibid., p. 73.

33Branden Joseph has recently observed the issues that arise around this formulation of the dialectics between the domination and freeing of bodies. In “The Tower and the Line,” he contrasts the political positionings of John Cage and Robert Morris.35 And he maintains that “whereas Cage argued for a strategy of exodus […], Morris sought ‘empowerment through a subversive relation to […] institutional connections.’ The difference is between a ‘major’ and a ‘minor’ politics, the former operating within a restricted, Oedipal economy predicated on there being one immutable mode of power’s operation.”36

  • 37 Ibid., p. 75.
  • 38 Robert Morris, “Solecisms of Sight: Specular Speculations, 2003, in Have I Reasons: Work and Writi (...)

34Joseph’s criticism continues concerning the normalization and docilization of bodies in their apparent status of greater freedom. This is how the system of vigilance and discipline works. The body is not a place for freedom, but a place for the site of power. As Joseph indicates, Morris was conscious of this early on: “the dissolution of transcendent form does not effect or guarantee the dissolution of power, but only (and at best) the dissolution of a certain type of sovereign power.”37 That is, as Morris himself maintains, “Resistance, not utopia, was the order of the day.”38 That resistance, and this is a personal position, has certain possibilities for success in the arenas of blindness. But not within blindness as a transcendent place that tries to avoid power, but in blindness as a game, like hide-and-seek, or fort/da, a game that suspends visibility for a moment, that suspends for a moment the inclemency of light. It is a moment of suspension in which the subject becomes blurred, desynchronizes and moves around. It is a stolen instant: a moment that passes, only leaving a record of its absence. Just as in the Blind Time Drawings, everything returns to its own place. But not in the same way. The artist looks at the clock and checks the results. There is a difference. Something has been lost, a time lag, minimum, at times almost imperceptible. This time lag is the space for a politics of resistance.

Notes

1 W.J.T. Mitchell, “Showing Seeing. A Critique of Visual Culture,” in What Do Pictures Want?: The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 336-356, p. 343. For the relationship between visual culture and non visuality, see: Georgina Kleege, “Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eyewitness Account,” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 4, no. 2 (August 2005), pp. 179-190.

2 Georgina Kleege, Sight Unseen (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); “Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eyewitness Account,” op. cit.; Akira M. Lippit, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005); Malcolm Bull, Seeing Things Hidden: Apocalypse, Vision and Totality (London: Verso, 1999). See also: Neil Leach, Camouflage (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006); Richard Panek, The Invisible Century (New York: Viking, 2004); Lennard J. Davis, Maquard Smith, ed., “Editorial: Disability-Visuality,” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 5, no. 2 (August 2006), pp. 131-136.

3 Jacques Derrida, Donner la mort (Paris: Galilée, 1999).

4 Concerning this issue, see David M. Levin, ed., Modernity and the Hegemony of Vision (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1993); Sites of Vision: The Discursive Construction of Sight in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999); The Philosopher’s Gaze: Modernity in the Shadows of Enlightenment (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1999).

5 Jonathan Crary, Techniques of the Observer (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996).

6 Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), trans. Alan Sheridan, Discipline and Punish (New York: Random House, 1977).

7 Guy Debord, La société du spectacle (Paris: Buchet/Chastel, 1967), trans. Fredy Perlman, Jon Supak, Society of Spectacle (New York: Black & Red, 1970).

8 Foucault sustains that, against every dominant regime, there always emerges a regime of resistance, a deviation from the norm, a paradoxical site of the archive.

9 Miguel Á. Hernández-Navarro, Más allá del ocularcentrismo: Antivisión en el arte contemporáneo, unpublished doctoral thesis (Murcia: University of Murcia, 2006).

10 Rosalind Krauss, “Antivision,” October, vol. 37 (Spring 1986), pp. 147-154.

11 This is something that we find, in one way or another, from early to late texts. See Robert Morris, “Blank Form,” 1960, reprinted in John G. Hanhardt, Barbara Haskell, Blam! The Explosion of Pop, Minimalism and Performance 1958-1964, ex. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1984), p. 101; “Professional Rules,” 1997; “Solecisms of Sight: Specular Speculations,” 2003; “Toward an Ophthalmology of the Aesthetic and an Orthopedics of Seeing,” talk at the symposium Rediscovering Aesthetics: Transdisciplinary Voices from Art History, Philosophy, and Art Practice, organized by Francis Haskell, Julia Jansen, Tony O’Connor, in 2004. The last three have been reprinted in Robert Morris, Have I Reasons: Work and Writings, 1993-2007, 2008, pp. 63-100, pp. 148-162, pp. 186-202.

12 Annette Michelson, “Robert Morris: An Aesthetics of Transgression,” in Robert Morris, ex. cat., 1969, pp. 7-75.

13 Rosalind Krauss, “The Mind/Body Problem: Robert Morris in Series,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem, ex. cat., 1994, pp. 2-17.

14 W.J.T. Mitchell, “Wall Labels: Word, Image, and Object in the Work of Robert Morris,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem, ex. cat., 1994, pp. 62-79.

15 Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s (New York: Harper & Row, 1989).

16 Jean-Pierre Criqui, “Drawing from the Heart of Darkness: Robert Morris’s Blind Time,” in Jean-Pierre Criqui, ed., Robert Morris: Blind Time Drawings, 1973-2000, ex. cat. (Prato/Göttingen: Centro per l’Arte contemporaneo Luigi Pecci/Steidl, 2005), p. 11.

17 Ibid., p. 12.

18 Martin Jay, “Returning the Gaze: The American Response to the French Critique of Ocularcentrism,” in Various Authors, Definitions of Visual Culture II. Modernist Utopias, Post-formalism, and Pure Visuality (Montréal: Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, 1996), pp. 29-46, p. 67.

19 See Maurice Berger, Labyrinths: Robert Morris, Minimalism, and the 1960s, op. cit.

20 Pamela M. Lee, Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960s (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004).

21 See Katia Schneller, Robert Morris, sur les traces de Mnémosyne (Paris: ENS/Éditions des archives contemporaines, 2008).

22 Martin Jay, “Modernism and the Retreat From Form,” Force Fields: Between Intellectual History and Cultural Critique (New York and London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 147-157.

23 W.J.T. Mitchell, “There Are No Visual Media,” Journal of Visual Culture, vol. 4, no. 2 (August 2005), pp. 257-266 .

24 See Giorgio Agamben, Profanations (New York: Zone Books, 2007).

25 Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes. The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley/Los Angeles/London: University of California Press, 1993).

26 Octavio Armand, Carol Maier, “Robert Morris: Mirage, Reflection (A Small Tribute to Vision),” October, vol. 6 (Autumn 1978), pp. 74-80.

27 See Martin Heidegger, “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes,” in Holzwege (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1949), trans. Albert Hofstadter, “The Origin of the Work of Art,” in Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), pp. 15-86.

28 See Denis Hollier, Against Architecture: The Writings of Georges Bataille (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992).

29 Annette Michelson, “Frameworks,” in Robert Morris. The Mind/Body Problem, ex. cat., 1994, pp. 50-61.

30 Robert Morris, “Solecism of Sight: Specular Speculations,” 2003, in Have I Reasons: Work and Writings…, p. 148.

31 Ibid., p. 150.

32 Maurice Berger, Labyrinths, op. cit. See also Maurice Berger, Minimal Politics. Performativity and Minimalism in Recent American Art (Baltimore: University of Maryland, 1997).

33 Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir, op. cit.

34 Robert Morris, “Solecisms of Sight: Specular Speculations,” 2003, in Have I Reasons: Work and Writings…, 2008, p. 160.

35 Branden W. Joseph, “The Tower and the Line: Toward a Genealogy of Minimalism,” Grey Room, no. 27 (Spring 2007), pp. 58-81.

36 Ibid., p. 73.

37 Ibid., p. 75.

38 Robert Morris, “Solecisms of Sight: Specular Speculations, 2003, in Have I Reasons: Work and Writings…, 2008, p. 160.

Table des illustrations

Titre 40. Robert Morris, Hearing, 1972. Zinc table, copper chair, lead bed, speakers, wood platform, water, batteries, and three-and-one-half-hour recorded tape, 54 × 144 × 144 inches (137 × 366 × 366 cm).
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3832/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 139k
Titre 41. Robert Morris, In the Realm of the Carceral: Separate Walkways – The Warders Above, the Immates Below, 1979. Prints, Plate I of a suite of 12 plates, 36.7 × 4.8 inches (93.3 × 12.2 cm). Genève, Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire, Genève. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3832/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 190k
Titre 42. Robert Morris, In the Realm of the Carceral: Towers of Silence, 1979. Prints, Plate I of a suite of 12 plates, 36.4 × 4.8 inches (92.5 × 12.09 cm). Genève, Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire.
Légende Courtesy of Robert Morris and Cabinet des estampes du Musée d’art et d’histoire, Genève. © 2010 Robert Morris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
URL http://books.openedition.org/enseditions/docannexe/image/3832/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 116k

Auteur

Associate professor of art history, Universidad de Murcia.

© ENS Éditions, 2015

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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