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Aren’t we living in a world where headless men only desire decapitated women?

A text by Chus Martínez for Matter of Perspectives by Lisa Jugert, 2010


“Space has always reduced me to silence.” This line from L´ Enfant (Jacques Vingtras), a book written in exile in London in 1880 by French activist and novelist Jules Vallès, under his pseudonym Jules Pascal, provides an eloquent and direct description of what happens in the photographs and works of Lisa Jugert. Space reduces them to silence. Here, space refers to the immense world. The noun ‘space’ does not signify an actual space, with particular traits, dimensions, and volume, but rather a vast immensity. The problem of being faced with the task of imagining the world, representing it, acting in it and the many ways we capture what we see goes hand in hand with the impossibility of doing just so.

Space, the immense world, is not an image or a complete notion we already possess. Rather, it is the promise of what is yet to come. It is the invention of an image, which is never there but which has to be conjured, again and again. This unachievable task of thinking the whole world is key to our culture. An awareness of incompleteness, or insufficiency, is present in the steps we make towards representation and is therefore an essential part of representation itself.

Art could simply be seen as this persistent task undertaken by individuals. This task here is synonymous with research. Under this premise, it would be entirely appropriate to free photography, for example, from the imposed regimes of empiricism and communication, reducing the picture to a unit of information.

Lisa Jugert is not a photographer, but does use a camera in various ways including pursuing the impossible task mentioned above. Can ideas be represented? Is it possible to depict the strange feeling of life being elsewhere? On the other hand, isn’t a realistic vision of the world the emptiest of all illusions?

The complex spirit of any media that deals with representation — narrative in the case of the novel, or image in the cases of photography and cinema — is overwhelmed by the contemporary tendency to reduce complexities into banalities. This is how the world of art can be constructed and defined as ‘the world as ambiguity’, in which there is no single absolute truth but a mass of contradictory truths, where the only certainty is the wisdom of uncertainty. In accord with the spirit of the age, it is only a small step away to claim that an artist presents a world with no truths at all, a world in which moral relativism is the only intelligent philosophy. In the words of Milan Kundera:
“It takes so little, so infinitely little, for someone to find himself on the other side of the border, where everything — love, convictions, faith, history — no longer has meaning. The whole mystery of human life resides in the fact that it is spent in the immediate proximity of, and even in direct contact with, that border, that it is separated from it not by kilometres but by barely a millimetre”.1

Lisa Jugert’s work deals with this millimetre separating us from the real. She explores it by depicting what cannot be depicted and creating performances and situations based on the understanding that this and any moment will pass and we will never grasp it again. The artist demands that the creative act offers as much surprise as life itself. The practice of producing art becomes the practice of increasing life, a competition of surprises that stimulates our consciousness, preventing it from becoming somnolent. This process cannot be ‘seen’; you can only have an experience of it. It is not for the artwork to replicate that experience; but to be a part of it. When we look at Jugert’s works, we find what remains of an exercise that has taken place, and that is still taking place, over and over, of which we are not passive participants, but an integral part.
It is clear that the image cannot be considered a substitute for a perceptible reality; it presents another variation of the real. As Marcel Proust said of the roses painted by Elstir, they are “a new variety with which this painter, like some clever horticulturist, had enriched the Rose family.2”

To propose imagination as a major force of human nature is to position art as one point from which we can better understand the mind at work. It is true that there is little to be gained by presenting imagination simply as the faculty of producing images; but this tautology has the virtue of ending the strict correlation of image and memory. Imagination separates us from the past, in this sense, as well as from reality. It faces the future. It is all about unreality. It requires the real to cooperate with the unreal. Without the ability to imagine, we cannot foresee. This mental process works in the margins, where the function of unreality comes to charm or disturb — to awaken one’s mind. This is why Jugert’s work concentrates on the margins, this millimetre, the almost-nothing that we can’t see but can only sense.
We all know it is there.

1 - Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, trans. Aaron Asher (New York: HarperCollins. 1996), 281. This translation supersedes the earlier translation by Michael Henry Heim (New York: Knopf, 1980)
2 - Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. V: Sodom and Gomorrah