Notes on X-Rays

1. X-ray: A form of radiation discovered by Prof. W. C. Röntgen of Würzburg in 1895, capable of passing in various degrees through many substances impervious to light, and of affecting a sensitized plate and thus producing shadow-photographs of objects enclosed within opaque receptacles or bodies, e.g. of the bones, or a bullet or other foreign body, within the flesh of a living person or animal; they also produce fluorescence, phosphorescence, and electrical effects, and have a curative operation in certain skin diseases; much used in modern surgical and medical practice.
2. An X-ray (image): is a technical manner of representation; it is a morphological casting of an original source object; it makes present unseen visual information void of references that place the image within the realm of the familiar; an X-ray image is an index of interstitial matter seen as collapsed or compressed space.

It is inevitable that I am asked about the X-ray image: “what are you looking for?” and “are you looking for hidden structures?” are understandably common questions. The X-ray has a certain technological cachet. The X-ray and its product (and byproducts) are perceived with an aura of scientific mystery, even fear. For my purposes the X-ray device that renders the image is a tool within the process (and at that is only part of the process), perhaps not unlike a pencil, paintbrush, or digital technology; yet it is not digital. The X-ray instantly indexes[i] an object or system of objects. The x-ray particle conically forces energy—violently—through a three-dimensional object upon a two-dimensional film – it creates a contact surface between the x-ray source and the receiving surface that can be interpreted, reread and unfolded without physiognomic bias; this artifact of violence, this contact surface is the liminal distance[ii] between the object and the receiver; it is a spatial artifact. In his text Not From Scratch: The Sweet Moment of Discontinuity, Levent Kara speaks directly to the X-ray’s place within the current works (specifically the installation The Cella Was Empty).

“You may say ‘but it is all about underlying structures, is not x-ray all about this?’ I will say ‘no’, the structures laid open by x-rays are not underlying structures as a grammatical system or a deep structure, they are highly arbitrary and accidental, they do not [necessarily] determine the objects physiognomy [for the lack of a better word]. This is, for me, the beauty of the whole performance. In dissolving its contents, [the exhibition] finds nothing to reveal deeper somewhere in its objects causing them, there is nothing that holds the presence of its objects. Thus, nothing to hold the presence of absence either, in the objects themselves, [The Cella Was Empty] constructs its own performative structures upon its objects. X-ray is there only momentarily to distance the reality of the object, the presence, to create the critical distance that triggers and ignites the spontaneous machinery of imagination, which explodes that presence in the multiplicity of iterative tracings, markings, spacings. The eidetic intensity of the work is not because of a phenomenological reduction, bracketing, that yields essences. It is there because the meticulous calibrations of each iteration altogether form a space of ordering that consciously discontinues the object while constantly referring back to it. This is also what cancels out the objects’ object(ness) in the experience of the work. The architecture of [The Cella Was Empty], or [The Cella Was Empty] the architectural intervention, does not rely on its objects for its own systemic(ness); it casts its own machinery that re-assures ordering while constantly rejecting an order of things.”[iii]

Once an artifact is indexed via radiography it is unfixed, liminally suspended between its context of origins and the projection of a new situation, a new context, and as such the X-ray image can be appropriated and re-contextualized while holding within a compressed material totality. Physically transforming and casting re-fixes the object and suggests alternative readings while maintaining morphological—enfolded—connections to the original.

[i] In “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America,” Rosalind Krauss defines the index as “…a type of sign which arises as thephysical manifestation of a cause, of which traces, [shadows] imprints, and clues are examples…”. The X-ray is a casting of shadows defined/formed via material density.

[ii] In much of my work Liminal has meanings that constantly intertwine: 1. Liminal is the least amount of distance (space) needed to connect two surfaces. 2. In anthropology liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.

[iii] Kara, Levent, Not From Scratch: The Sweet Moment of Discontinuity, from Paul O Robinson – Form of Absence: Radiographs | Paintings | Reliquaries, 2015, pg. 75