String, Space and Surface in the Photography of Vik Muniz by Sandra Plummer
This article examines three series of works by the artist Vik Muniz— Pictures of Thread, Piranesi Prisons and Pictures of Wire. These works employ a string-like material to convey pictorial space. The “string” is utilized in different ways: to create a type of landscape tapestry, as a drawing constructed through “string art” techniques, and to make sculptural drawings. The use of string provides a three-dimensional element to the work, yet this apparent three-dimensionality jars with the presentation of the work as photographs of the original drawings. This article proposes an analysis of the work as reflexive examinations of the photograph. The structure of the article follows the movement from the nomadic quality of the string in Pictures of Thread, through to the taut grid construction of Piranesi Prisons and, finally, to the tensile rigid “string” oi Pictures of Wire. The first section considers Muniz’s Pictures of Thread and Piranesi Prisons series in relation to pictorial space and the haptic. The second section examines Pictures of Wire as an example of trompe t’oei! and simulacra. The article concludes by considering the flatness of the photograph in relation to a Deleuzian account of surface.
Sandra Plummer is an artist and writer. She is a research sludent at the London Consorlium/ Birkbeck College, University ot London. Her research focuses on the ontology of the photograph in contemporary art. Textile. Volume 5. Issue 2. pp. 230-243 DOl: 10.2752/175183507X219533 Reprints aiiailable direclly from the Publishers. Photocopying permitted bv licence only. © 2007 Berg. Printed in the United Kingdom.
String, Space and Surface in the Photography of Vik Muniz
String is my foible. My pockets get full of little hanks of it, picked up and twisted together, ready for uses that never come. I am seriously annoyed if anyone cuts the string of a parcel instead of patiently and faithfully undoing it fold by fold. (Elizabeth Gaskell)’
In her discussion of Cornelia Parker’s use of string in an earlier issue of this journal, Claire Pajaczkowska conceives of it as “the loose reverie of thinking” (2005: 245). Pajaczkowska’s conception of string removes it from its categorization as ubiquitous multi-purpose stuff. String transcends the everyday and becomes a metaphor for thought. This association, between thinking and string, is one that I wish to draw out through an examination of the work of the artist Vik Muniz. I propose that Muniz takes the string for a walk, in a way that is analogous to Paul Klee’s aphorism on drawing—the string becomes an active line on a walk.^ The active quality of the line becomes like Ariadne’s thread, tugging the viewer through the labyrinthine surfaces of the work. ForGilles Deleuze, the philosophical concept of surface engenders a redirection of thought. In Deleuze’s terms, surface “provokes a reorientation of thought and of what it means to think: there is no longer depth and height” (Deleuze 2004:148). The encounter between string and surface that occurs in Pictures of Thread, Piranesi Prisons and Pictures of Wire creates a complexity that disrupts the linearity of thought in the viewer. We move from the singularity of the image to a multiplicity of surfaces.
Pictures of Thread
Vik Muniz was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and is currently based in New York. Muniz’s art consists of photographs, but Muniz is not a conventional photographer. “Vik Muniz does not take photographs,” insists Germano Celant, “he materializes them” (Celant 2003: 13). Muniz creates images to be photographed. Often recreating famous artworks or iconic photographs, Muniz presents us not with this recreation but with its photographic reproduction. In the essay “An Ethics of Illusion,” Moacir dos Anjos highlights the difference between the creation of the originals and the photograph; while the former “is done slowly, with a craftsman’s art, calling attention to the way it was made” the taking of the photograph is “instantaneous” (dos Anjos 2004: 47). Something happens in the transformation from crafted image to its photographic double. The substitution of Muniz’s original by the photograph adds another layer to the artwork; it opens up a new kind of perceptual space and calls attention to representation itself. Muniz’s work is predominantly concerned with the act of effects. Much of Muniz’s work demonstrates his wish to challenge the perception of the viewer. There is an undeniable magic in the work of Muniz, yet it is a magic that always seeks to reveal its artifice. Muniz aims to present what he calls the “worst possible illusion that will still fool the eyes” (Muniz 1998: i6). Muniz’s subject matter often resonates with his choice of material, a fact that is particularly evident in a series such as The Sugar Children (portraits of the children of sugar cane plantation workers rendered in sugar), or in his reworking of The Last Supper in chocolate syrup. Muniz’s works in string may not seem to offer the same resonance between the subject matter and material. Yet these works employ string in a manner that affirms its physicality. String is not used here as a mere tool to represent something else; string represents itself, string becomes the subject.
Muniz describes his early works as “hybrids” between image and object (Muniz 2005: 22). Tug of War from 1989 is a good example of such a hybrid. Tug of War consists of two photographs placed a few feet apart, each depicting a person pulling on one end of a rope. The rope they are pulling on is represented by an actual rope suspended between the photographs. Muniz says that his work is not made to confuse, “but to destabilize the viewer’s notion of what a photograph is” (Muniz 1998:17). What Muniz’s work materializes is not images so much as their act of reproduction; his photographs manifest the photograph as photograph.
For Muniz, photography is “the ultimate evolution of painting,” but it is a medium where you do not see the marks of its construction. Muniz is intent on making these marks visible (Muniz 2003: 41).
“Cicero put it very well when he said that the passage of time is similar to the unravelling ofa thread” (Deleuze 2004:164). Vik Muniz’s Pictures of Thread are copies of famous landscape paintings created with cotton thread. However, the thread is not used in the conventional way—it is neither stitched nor attached to the canvas but used as a threedimensional drawing material.
These works are line drawings in thread rather than embroidery or tapestry. There is a performative element in the creation of these works; Muniz states that he took the idea of the “accidental” to these landscapes (Muniz 2005: 51). Although there is an original motif, it serves as an inspiration rather than dictatinga pattern. Muniz chose complex pictures or paintings that seemed to define the development of the genre. The picture is created by Muniz unspoolingyards of thread on top ofa light box—the amount of thread used subsequently becomes the title of the piece. The actual Pictures of Thread exist only to be photographed; they function like the mythic shroud of Penelope^—the thread constantly unravelled and reused.
20,000 Yards (The Castle at Bentheim, after Jacob van Ruisdael) (Figure 1) is a copy of The Castle at Bentheim by the Dutch seventeenth-century landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael. Ruisdael made a series of paintings of Bentheim Castle but this particular painting was completed in 1651. There is an obvious similarity between the original image and Muniz’s rendering of it—we can make out the trees on the left, foliage in the foreground and a central meandering path which winds its way towards the horizon where a castle is perched on a hill. 20,000 Yards looks like a tangled embroidery—a mass of threads, but individual lengths have been skilfully teased out to form details such as the branches of trees, the roof of a house, the outline ofa turret. Yet 20,000 Yards is a monochrome drawing rendered in burnt umber thread and provides no indication of the color, light or space of the original painting. There are two figures on horseback in the Ruisdael, the bright red tunic of the figure on the right contrasts vividly with the ochre background; these figures do not appear in the Muniz rendition. The fallen beech tree in the immediate foreground that serves to exaggerate the depth in the Ruisdael landscape does not appear in 20,000 Yards.
The thread in 20,000 Yards appears to project from the ground, demonstrating that this is not a flat depiction but a type of three-dimensional relief. The picture seems to expand outwards drawing the viewer closer to the snaking thread and to its tangled depths. Looking at the loops of the thread, we are reminded of Derrida’s analysis of Van Gogh’s painting of peasant shoes—where the loop of the undone lace functioned as a trap, “a leash.” For Derrida, “the picture is caught in the lace” and here we get caught in the spider’s web of thread (Derrida 1987: 277, 331). Yet our desire to touch the silken texture of the thread is indefinitely deferred since this is a photograph. The apparent depth belongs to the absent original picture rather than to the photograph we see. The photograph of the work transforms the depth of the actual thread to the status of a representation of depth. Our focus moves across the picture from form to ground, from thread to void, from depth to shallowness. The string leads us through a multitude of surfaces rather than an abyss of depths.
Landscape paintings rely on pictorial conventions to represent space. Since paintings offer the viewer no sense of haptic space, the painter will often exaggerate spatial distance. In addition to the use of scale to describe space, the painter may distinguish between distinct spatial planes by level of detail, contrast and color. The foreground has greatest detail and contrast, the middle distance less so and the background is often rendered as most distant through the use of atmospheric perspective. Thus, far-off hills String, Space and Surface in the Photography of Vik Muniz 235 may appear misty and rendered in a lighter tone—in pale blues or purples. As a genre, landscape paintings tend towards larger scale, and function as a panorama; we need to stand back to see them properly. Our bodies project Into the painting, roaming amongst the different planes.
20,000 Yards does not conform to the conventions of landscape painting. There is little differentiation between the treatment of far distance and foreground; both are rendered in the same color and tone and with the same level of detail. This picture is reduced to a single plane. In contrast to the original Ruisdael, 20,000 Yards lacks a sense of space and distance. The visual clues for the eye are provided only by scale, by the diminished size of the castle in the distance or the thinning pathway as it meanders through the landscape. In 20.000 Yards, depth exists only in terms of the thickness of the thread, but even this depth is flattened by the presentation of the photograph in place of the original image.
In The Life of Forms in Art, Henri Focillon notes that “man … does not measure space with his eyes but with his hands and feet” (1989:162-3). A representation of space, however, must provide optical clues. Muniz reverses the convention and presents us with a landscape that prioritizes the sense of touch. 20,000 Yards transforms a genre dominated by the optic into a space that pertains to the haptic. The illusionistic space of landscape is replaced by an appeal to the viewer’s tactile and haptic sense. As Mark Paterson explains, the haptic is not restricted to touch in the sense of actual skin contact but also extends to a notion of “haptic space.”” Laura U. Marks has formulated a concept of “haptic visuality” that also extends beyond the literal sense of touch. For Marks, “haptic visuality” is “a kind of seeing that uses the eye like an organ of touch.”^ 20,000 Yards seems to incite a haptic gaze where the viewer ranges over the texture and surface of the image rather than delving into illusionistic space. For Marks, “a haptic composition appeals to tactile connections on the surface plane of the image” while the optical image invites the viewer to perceive depth (Marks 2000:162).
Most landscapes demand viewing from a distance; 20,000 Yards, however, can only be understood from close range; we range over the surface, becoming lost among the forest of threads. It is interesting that the concept of the haptic has its origins in the analysis of the art historian and curator of textiles, Alois Reigl. Laura U. Marks asserts that it was during his study of Persian carpets that Riegl conceived his notion of the haptic: “These carpets with their endless, interleaved patterns don’t allow the eye to rest in one place; they invite the eye to move along them, caressing their surface” (Marks 2004). Pictures of Thread perhaps share some of the qualities that Riegl saw in his research on textiles. In 20,000 Yards nothing recedes into the distance; everything is close up and demands close viewing. Embroidery goes from point to point, but 20,000 Yards runs freely in lines traversing the canvas, building up in clusters here and there. Although we can discern individual threads, they do not appear rigidly connected or knitted together to form a cohesive pattern. Each thread is not dependent on the existence of another; the dropping of a stitch would not weaken the structure. Although some threads are teased out into straight lines to define an outline, most appear to freely roam the landscape. The threads inhabit the space nomadically without fixed settlement, the intersection occurs only at a surface level. There is no interpenetration of thread and no attachmentto the support. 20,000 Yards is an image of pure surface—there is nothing underneath or behind it.
It is interesting to note that Muniz approached Pictures of Thread by thinking of the landscape as “a sense of infinity” where distance was “compressed within a very thin surface.” Thinking about distance, Muniz remembered that metered thread was used in Brazil to measure land. Muniz’s inspiration for using thread also arose from his childhood recollection of using it to make kites. Pictures of Thread resonate with this memory. For Muniz, thread embodies “an abstract way of conquering distance and measurement” (Muniz 2005: 51). The conquering of distance is achieved in 20,000 Yards by the inversion of depth for length and by the compression of this length on to a pictorial surface. In 20,000 Yards the extended length of the thread suggests an encompassed landscape, but the spatial depth and distance collapses. The transformation 236 Sandra Plummer from picture to photograph further erodes the remaining depth of the thread and compresses distance onto a flatter surface. The title oi 20,000 Yards emphasizes the length of the thread and perhaps it is only this that persists in the representation of space.
How could Socrates recognise himself in these caves that are no longer his own? With what thread, since the thread is lost? (Deleuze 1983:53}
Piranesi Prisons are drawings after Piranesi’s Corcer/(or prisons)^ etchings circa 1780. At first glance. Prisons look like architectural line-drawings or etchings. However, closer inspection reveals that the lines and cross-hatchings consist of thread. The method of construction contrasts with the unwound looseness of Pictures of Thread. In Prisons the picture is created using string art techniques—the thread is wound tight around thousands of pins pressed into a flat board. Muniz has spoken of the shock of “two antagonistic depth-perceptions” in the Prisons series—the perspective and the shallow relief of the thread that exists on a raised surface above the flat ground. The convergence of media (the three-dimensional relief of the raised thread with the rendering of that thread to suggest linear perspective) provokes confusion in the viewer. This confusion is exacerbated by the presentation of the work as a two-dimensional photograph (the actual three-dimensional space thus collapses into illusionistic space). Muniz plays with the paradoxical coexistence of media, seeking to produce an affect of both “expansiveness” and “claustrophobia” in the viewer (Muniz 2005: 55}. The ambiguity in the image provokes fascination and vacillation so that the viewer becomes trapped in the picture.
The Gothic Arch is an impressive recreation of a Piranesi “prison of the imagination.” The picture shows multiple floors of gothic halls, arches, and passageways v\/ith labyrinthine staircases. The stairways, populated by anonymous dark figures, are reminiscent of M.C. Escher’s illusions of impossible staircases. In The Gothic Arch, however, there is a perspective of a different order. The use of thread as a three-dimensional drawing material competes with the space it seeks to convey. The actual depth of the thread disrupts the perspectival depth. This is most apparent in those areas where strands are wound together to form the suspended chains that hang from the protruding beams. The texture of the chains of thread operates as a relief against the neat taut lines of perspective that (in contrast) recede into the background. The individualization of single threads from the mass undoes the three-dimensional illusion of perspective and breaks the “surface” of the picture.
String and Line
In Vik Muniz’s Pictures of Thread and Piranesi Prisons, the string operates as a substitute line for that of a pencil or etching. Yet the materiality of the string and its use as a three-dimensional line competes with its attempt to convey depth. The notion of a three-dimensional line in art may seem paradoxical; tines function to provide contour, describe an outline or enclose a surface. Muniz’s string, however, resists this demand, transcending the status of line and becoming surface. The string returns us instead to the original meaning of “line.” As Hillis Miller reminds us, “the word line comes from a root lino meaning linen, flax” (Hillis Miller 1992: 7). The clumped lines in Pictures of Thread and Piranesi Prisons that reflect the thread’s fibrous origin also resonate with the origin of “line” itself. The unspooling process of Pictures of Thread produces an apparently unstructured mesh of unspun fibres, echoing the beginning of thread manufacture. In Piranesi Prisons, however, the process of the work is more advanced, as is the resulting spatial representation. The thread is unspooled in order to be “woven” and the lines are fastened and restrained. The grid-like construction of the picture echoes the loom and the interlacing of lines mimics the interweaving of warp and weft. The loose string of mapped landscapes in Pictures of Thread becomes the taut threads of linear perspective in Piranesi Prisons. The movement from landscape to architectural interior also indicates a shift from an expanse of open space to a closed, contained one. The haptic or tactile quality of the string in Muniz’s work disrupts the representation of space and produces multiple surfaces.
James Elkins has reiterated Muniz’s claim to make the “worst possible illusion.” Writing on 6,200 Yards (Lighthouse), Elkins states that “Despite Muniz’s skill at traditional, academic drawing, string just does not make good waves, and if you look closely you can see the threads looping back, as if the water was full of eels. The string painting demonstrates its insufficiency, but reluctantly.”‘ The reinforced string in Pictures of Wire, and the close focus on domestic objects, takes us yet further from the openness of Pictures of Thread. It is in Pictures that the string becomes most comp/ex and knotted, losing its linearity and becoming a threedimensional surface.^
Pictures of Wire: Trompe i’oeil and Simulacra
Line is the thread of Ariadne, which leads us through the labyrinth of millions of natural objects. Without line we would be lost.
Pictures of Wire are line-drawings of everyday objects. Yet the line is not so much drawn as sculpted. As with the pictures created using thread, the lines here consist ofa string-like material that exists in relief. Pictures of Wire, however, are three-dimensional forms modelled in wire rather than drawings. The wire forms appear to project from the white background—there is a discernable shadow and advancing form. Yet something is not quite right; Pictures of Wire are photographs of the wire sculptures. Our attention switches between the picture as image and the picture as form: between two-dimensional representation and three-dimensional form. Pictures of Wire hover between illusionistic two-dimensional space and actual three-dimensional depth. Vik Muniz has said that Pictures of Wire arose as a response to seeing Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Baptistery Doors—Porfo del Paradiso.^° The inspiration is not immediately apparent; however, Muniz explains that it is the meeting of two media, the convergence of drawing and three-dimensional relief that most impressed him about the work. For Muniz, this meeting of different media results in an overwhelming of the senses of the spectator so that the confused eye “is arrested in the surface of the picture” (Muniz 2005: 46).
Fiat Lux is a drawing ofa light bulb sculpted in wire. The bulb appears to hang from an invisible ceiling in an undefined space with only a shadow behind the hanging wire and behind the suspended filament to suggest space. The selection of such a banal everyday object seems an uninspiring choice for a picture, yet Muniz is not interested in the subject matter so much as the form that it takes. The content of Pictures of Wire lies not in the object of representation, but in the operation of spatial illusion. Pictures of Wire operate as trompe /’oe;7—”tricking the eye” of the viewer. It is interesting to note Baudrillard’s assertion that the objects of trompe I’oeil are invariably banal—”Their insignificance is offensive.”” Still-life paintings are the most common form of trompe t’oeil painting. The specific genre of “quodlibet” paintings (literally “what you please,” or “anything at all”) particularly conform to Baudrillard’s accusation of banality in the trope l’oeil tradition.’^ Muniz’s selection of objects in Pictures of Wire fit the trompe l’oeil criteria: a light bulb, a suitcase, an ashtray, objects that recede into the everyday.
However, the operation of trompe l’oeil in Fiat Lux is not to be confused with the traditional form of trompe l’oeil painting; it is not the verisimilitude of Muniz’s representation of the light bulb that fools us. In Fiat lux the viewer is not tricked by the artifice of painted illusion or by the veracity of the representation of the light bulb. There are at least two distinct moments of illusion that operate in Fiat Lux. The first occurs with the three-dimensional rendering of an object in a material (wire) that can be read as a two-dimensional line drawing, thereby causing a convergence of diverse forms of representation and of their respective spatial dimensions. The second moment compounds the first ambiguity; the presentation of the work as a photograph causes the collapse of these spatial distinctions. It is the transparency of photography that facilitates this ambiguity between the photograph and the original. The photograph functions like a window that opens on to the world but this transparent medium becomes invisible through the presentation of its image. Pictures of Wire force this transparency to collapse making the photograph visible as photograph.
The trompe I’oeil in Pictures of Wire operates through the substitution of a two-dimensional photographic representation for its three-dimensional referent. The resemblance of the photograph to the actual sculptural drawing operates on more than one level—it is not simply that the photographic representation resembles the original, but that we become unable to determine the difference between the two. There is a short circuit in the viewer’s perception, a disruption of their assumed perception of depth from the confusing visual cues provided. The uncertainty we experience in Pictures of Wire is analogous to that produced by optical illusions (particularly in cases where the ambiguity, like that in Pictures of Wire, is facilitated by a simplistic wire-frame drawing). In Pictures of Wire we cannot see both the “drawing” and the photograph at the same time; the result is that our perception flips between the assumed three-dimensional object and the actual photographic surface.
In Pictures of Wire the viewer experiences an overwhelming of the senses, yet the experience is also marked by a return to self, a return to rationality and to the capacity to distinguish between appearances and reality. The confusion gives way to reflection and to a reassertion of the physicality of the photograph. The phenomenon that occurs in Pictures of Wire is not unlike the experience of the sublime. In the case of Pictures of Wire the affect is induced by a representation, rather than nature. Pictures of Wire embody the delineation of art as semblance in Plato’s The Republic. For Plato, the artist’s copy is “something which resembles ‘what is’ without being it” (Plato 1987: 362). Muniz’s work functions like a simulacrum: the photograph 5/mu/afesthe appearance of the actual.’J Pictures of Wire are not simply copies of reality but copies of copies of reality whose effect is contingent on the conflation of the copy and the real.
Baudrillard draws an analogy between simulacra and trompe I’oeil, situating the latter as antirepresentation, as “simulacra without perspective.” The objects of trompe l’oeil are not real objects; for Baudrillard, they do not describe reality but “the void and absence” of representation. There is an additional void in Pictures of Wire: not only are the objects not real, but the shadows produced by them are not real either. It is the shadows in Fiat Lux that initially reveal the three-dimensionality of the wire drawing but, in the transformation from actual object to photograph, the shadows serve to deceive the eye. The shadows in the photographs cause distortion in our depth perception causing us to believe that the objects we see are real. It is not that the shadows are not real (they are the shadows cast by the original object), but the shadows that are presented in Fiat Lux are photographs of shadows. These shadows belong to another space and time—they are not shadows whose light source we share. It is interesting to note Baudrillard’s reflections on trompe L’oeil again—”The sun that shines upon them is very different …This shadow does not move with the sun.” The shadows we perceive in Fiat Lux are simulacra: shadows of internal depth that pre-exist the viewer and belong to the realm of representation. These shadows belong to another world, not to the one from which we view the image. Pictures of Wire emphasize that the photograph belongs to the past—to what has been, so that the photograph always precedes us. The “depth”of ffoftuxisone that is, in Baudrillard’s terms, internal fof/jewor/c (Baudrillard 1988: Photography is often characterized by its capacity to produce an incomparable copy of reality. Vik Muniz’s Pictures of Thread, Piranesi Prisons and Pictures of Wire series, however, transcend the notion of the photograph as a copy and demonstrate instead its potential to operate as a simulacrum. In Pictures of Thread, Piranesi Prisons and Pictures ofWirethe actual depth of the work is transformed into a flattened representation by the substitution ofa photograph in place of the original object. This occurs nnost notably in Pictures of Wire, where the shadows that “prove” the three-dimensionality have become representation. Pictures of Wire have a particular relation with space; they do not represent it, but envelop it. The three-dimensional model encapsulates space; the wire outline delineates the space it encompasses. The representation of space occurs only through the movement from object to photograph. The string in Pictures of Wire is not the string on the surface of Pictures of Thread, nor the string on a raised surface of Piranesi Prisons. The rigid string in Pictures of Wire has become separate from the surface; it generates its own surface pushing its way through to the photographic surface.
For Deleuze, there is a relation between simulacra and surface; simulacra may take us in two directions at once but they are always ascending to the surface. Surface is conceived as the space where meaning exists. Deleuze attributes the origin of this concept to the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.”‘ The concept of surface has important philosophical implications because, in Deleuze’s terms, it provokes a reorientation of thought. The Deleuzian concept of surface is of a space where events occur—”Everything that happens and everything that is said happens or is said at the surface” (Deleuze 2004:150). This conception of surface, however, is not to be read in opposition to depth, or as a ground on which events unfold.’^ Rather, surface is a place of continuous unfolding and becoming that enters into composition with the effects that cause it.
Surfaces are what are visible to the eye; photographs, however, deny their surfaces for the images they depict. Yet the photograph always signifies on the surface. The operation of the photograph is an endless movement of depth becoming surface, of surface becoming depth. We can draw a parallel between the experience of being photographed and Alice’s String, Space and Surface in the Photography of Vik Muniz entry through the Looking-Glass: Deleuze remarks that Alice releases her “incorporeal double” and that it is “by skirting the surface, that one passes from bodies to the incorporeal” (Deleuze 2004:12). Vik Muniz’s Pictures of Thread, Piranesi Prisons and Pictures of Wire reveal the movement from embodiment to the incorporeal. The “string” is made into an “image” then to be photographed; there is a double transition from object to image. The string that skirts the surface in Muniz’s art loses its actual physicality in the transformation from original object to photograph. The substitution of a photographic image in the place of the object is not immediately apparent, the manipulation of string (as a three-dimensional drawing material) enables the perceptual ambiguity to take place. However, this uncertainty also provokes a counter movement from image to object—the initial invisibility of the photograph gives way to a renewed visibility of the photographic surface. As the illusion becomes clear, the threedimensional dravi/ing is revealed as a depthless image and the dematerialized object gives way to a re-materialized photograph. The dematerialization of string is exchanged for a materialization of the photograph as such and for an affirmation of the string as representation. The transparency of photography, that which made the illusion possible, is rendered opaque. The interaction between string and surface reinstates the photograph; the photograph becomes an ob/ecf rather than the image it depicts.
String is ubiquitous and multi-purpose; it ties, secures, tightens, attaches, loops, lassoes. It is cord, filament, thread, fibres, sinews, skein, and twine. String is a liminal material that operates on the threshold between stuff and equipment. Vik Muniz’s Pictures of Thread, Piranesi Prisons and Pictures of Wire employ string in ways that both reveal and transcend its everyday use. In Pictures ofThreadthe string becomes a visual medium that acquires a form through its unspooling. The string art techniques of Piranesi Prisons employ string in a manner that is closer to its everyday use: it is the wrapping and securing of the thread that creates the picture. The rigid string of P/cfureso/lV/re recalls the use of string to define or to enclose. Muniz’s string measures, encompasses and envelops space; it becomes more than outline, corresponding to what Riegl describes as “relief.”‘^ String can be used to restrain us—to impede our progress, but it can also be used to help us find our way. The string in Muniz’s work demonstrates the qualities of tension and resistance; but the tines also suggest direction. It is by following the string that we discover the surface. String eschews the role of pure line in Muniz’s art, resists delineation, and is always disrupting the surface and creating new ones—it in this capacity that it renders the photographic surface visible.
I would like to thank Parveen Adams and Steven Connor from the London Consortium for their comments on earlier drafts of this article. My thanks also go to Diarmuid Costello and to the reviewers of this article for their comments. Finally, I would like to thank the artist Vik Muniz for providing the images and copyright.
1. See the “Old Letters” section of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1993) originally published in 1853, pp. 75-6.1 am grateful to J. Hillis Miller (1992) for his citation of this quote in his Ariadne’s Thread.
2. Klee’s quote generally appears as “taking a line for a walk” and his drawing is also referred to as a “walking-line.” Frank Gehry (2004) quotes Klee: “an active line on a walk, moving freely. A walk for a walk’s sake” (p. 13).
3. Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, wove her design for a shroud for her father-in-law Laertes by day (but unravelled it again at night) to keep her suitors from claiming her during the years while Odysseus was away.
4. See Mark Paterson’s website, particularly “The relation between touch and space” for an introduction to his research and his concept of “haptic spaces.” <http://www.ggy.bris. ac.uk/postgraduates/ggmp>, accessed August 2006.
5. See Laura U. Marks. (2004). “Haptic Visuality: Touching with the Eyes.” Frameworii: the Finnish Art Review 2 <http:// www.framework.fi/2_2OO4/ visitor/artikkelit/marks.htm>, accessed August 2006. See also Mark’s (2000) The Skin of the Film: intercultural 242 Sandra Plummer Cinema. Embodiment, and the Senses.
6. In the accompanying text for their Piranesi exhibition. the National Academies note that Piranesi changed the title from the original “Invenzioni Capric[ci} di Carceri or ‘imaginary inventions of prisons’ to Carceri d’invenzione, or’prisons of the imagination.'” <http://www7. nationalacademies.org/arts/ Piranesi_Muniz.html> accessed August 2006.
7. James Elklns”‘The Most InterestingThingthatcan be done with Representation” is available from Vik Muniz’s website <http://www.vikmuniz. net/main.html), accessed August 2006.
8. I am paraphrasing Hillis Miller \i^. (1992) here when he notes that the linear may become “complex” (thus losing its linearity), “knotted, repetitive, doubled, broken, phantasmal.” p. 17.
9. j . Hillis Miller’s >lr/odne’s Thread (1992) opens with this quote by George Grosz on page 1 in a section on “line.”
10. Muniz (2005) refers to Ghiberti’s Doors of Paradise (1403) in Florence as inspiration p. 46. u. See Baudrillard (1988)— “objects without referents, out of context… like old 15. newspapers, these old books, these old nails” pp. 154-5.
12. 1 am grateful to OlafKoester (2000) for these translations of “quod libet” p. 25.
13. See Plato’s The Republic (1987) Book Ten—”Theory of Art” for an account of “imitation” and the work of the artist (the artist produces an appearance or apparition of what they represent, “something which resembles ‘what is’ without being it.” Deleuze’s account of “simulacra” (1983) draws on the last sections of Plato’s Sophist, where Plato distinguishes between “likeness-making” and “appearance-making” (a distinction which can be simplified as “good copy” and “bad copy” respectively). Taking issue with Plato’s inherent hierarchical distinction, Deleuze construes the terms as “iconic copies (likenesses)” and “phantasmatic simulacra (semblances).” Deleuze (2004) attributes the origin of “surface” to the Stoics, “The autonomy of the surface, independent of, and against depth and height… are the important Stoic discoveries against the pre-Socratics and Plato” p. 150. According to Deleuze, Stoic philosophy was the first philosophy to overturn Platonism. However, in his discussion of Plato and the Simulacrum (1983), he claims that Plato was the first to overturn Platonism (with regard to his concept of simulacra). I am grateful here for Jean-Clet Martin’s (1996) formulation of “surface” in his essay “The Eye of the Outside”—see particularly pp. 18-19. Alois Riegl (2004) views art as either pertaining to form or to surface-sculpture belongs to the former and painting to the String, Space and Surtace in the Photography of Vik Muniz 243 latter. The relief however “aims to create a tactile surface while breaking away from the three-dimensional extension of space,” p. 411. References Dos Anjos, M. (2004), “An Ethics of Illusion,” in Vii< Muniz: Incomplete Works, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Ministerio da Cultura, Fundagao Biblioteca Nacional. Baudrillard,). (1988), Selected Writings, Mark Poster (ed.), Cambridge: Polity Press. Celant, G. (2003), “Mimesis of Mimesis: Vik Muniz,” in Vik Muniz, Milan: Mondadorio Electa. Deleuze, G. (1983), “Plato and the Simulacrum,” tr. Rosalind Krauss October 27 (Winter) 45-56. — (2004), The Logic of Sense, tr. Mark Lester, London: Continuum. Derrida, J. (1987), The Truth in Painting, tr. Geoff Bennington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Elkins, J. (2004), “The Most InterestingThingthatcan be done with Representation,” in VikMuniz: Incomplete Works, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Ministerio da Cuttura, Fundagao Biblioteca Nacional, <http://www. vikmuniz.net/main.html) accessed August 2006. Focillon, H. (1989), The Life of Forms in Art, tr. C.B. Hogan and G. Kubler, London: Zone Books. Gaskell, E. (1993), Cranford, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd. Gehry, F. (2004), Gehry Draws, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. Hillis Miller, J. (1992), Ariadne’s Thread, New Haven/London: Yale University Press. Koester, 0. (2000), Painted Illusions: The Art of Cornelius Gijsbrechts, London: National Gallery. Marks, L.U. (2000J, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses, Durham/London: Duke University Press. — (2004), “Haptic Visuality: Touching with the Eyes,” in Framework: the Finnish Art Review 2 <http://www.framework. fi/2_ 2oo4/visitor/artikkelit/marks.htm> accessed August 2006. Martin, J. (1996), “The Eye of the Outside,” in Deleuze: A Critical Reader, Paul Patton (ed.), Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 18-28. Muniz, V. (1998), “Vik Muniz and Charles Ashley Stainback: A Dialogue,” in VikMuniz: Seeing Is Believing, Charles Ashley Stainback and Mark Alice Durant (eds), Santa Fe: Arena Editions. — (2003), “The Cunning Artificer,” an interview with Vik Muniz by Vincent Katz, in VikMuniz. Milan: Mondadorio Electa. — (2005), Reflex: A Vik Muniz Primer, New York: Aperture. Pajaczkowska, C. (2005), “On Stuff and Nonsense: the Complexity of Cloth,” in Textile: The Iournal of Cloth and Culture 3 (3): 220-49. Paterson, M. “The relation between touch and space,” <http://www.ggy.bris.ac.uk/ postgraduates/ggmp> accessed August 2006. Plato (1987), The Republic, tr. Desmond Lee, London: Penguin. Plato (1993), Sophist, tr. Nicholas P. White, Indianapolis: Hackett. Riegl, A. (2004), Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts, tr. J. Jung, New York: Zone Books.