The Gesture

Like every­one else, I devout­ly mis­read A Thou­sand Plateaus; the bit I come back to the most is the Out­cault car­toon that pref­aces 1874: Three Novel­las, or What Hap­pened?’” Buster Brown, Tige, a cop, a coach­man, a sec­ond urchin, all eye­ing each oth­er around a dropped turkey, with dead-straight dashed lines extend­ing from their eyes to exam­ine each oth­er: what hap­pened here? 

The appeal of what-hap­pened-here” lies with­in every pic­ture. What gives the pho­to­booth pic­ture joy is a slight the­atri­cal prompt: you have this minute to express your moment, your night, your rela­tion­ship, make it count! Through the four pic­tures you make faces, pull your­selves in and out of the frame, inter­fere with each oth­er. The impro­vi­sa­tion of ges­tures based on com­mon themes lends the result­ing object a semi-leg­i­ble char­ac­ter, for who­ev­er dis­cov­ers it lat­er; to look at it is to be an Eng­lish speak­er sound­ing out a para­graph in Dutch. Since you can read a lit­tle from the ges­tures of the pho­to­booth strip, you can make a sto­ry­line between the images. 

Land­scapes as giv­en are almost too mean­ing-rich; and there are too many actors to pay atten­tion to, too many pos­si­ble caus­es. So they become illeg­i­ble fields of action. The best cure for this is not to stand stock-still in front of them squint­ing and enu­mer­at­ing, but to start with a work­ing expla­na­tion for the major strokes of the com­po­si­tion. In the same way, going deep­er into a por­trait need not mean account­ing for the sitter’s biog­ra­phy, every mys­te­ri­ous item of toi­lette, know­ing the year and the patron; it need only start with a sin­gle heuris­tic, and unfold from there.

One plea­sure of Rome is account­ing for mate­ri­als, espe­cial­ly those close to home. And these mate­ri­als not only define char­ac­ter, or lend dec­o­ra­tive effects, but lay out out vis­i­ble lengths of sup­ply chain for those with a lit­tle prim­ing. To see a wall of tufa next to a street in blocks of basalt is to re-enact the erup­tion of the Alban Hills. To look at a traver­tine ele­va­tion is to see in sec­tion the prod­uct of an immense lime kiln, with one lay­er after anoth­er of hard water pressed from the side of an earth­en sponge. And in a more sober fash­ion, to be between the ser­pen­tine and por­phyry of a cos­matesque floor and the blocky gold of a Baroque ceil­ing is to see a a time­line of vast colo­nial fits, next to which any lit­tle repa­tri­a­tion of stele seems inconsequential. 

(June 2018)