The Absolute Authority of Authenticity: An Unselfconscious Universal Art

Published 14 January 2014 Simon Marsh

Our society is not one of spectacle but of surveillance. We are neither in the amphitheater nor on the stage but in the panoptic machine. [1]

The disciplines of both art and science have shared a long history of cross-fertilisation. In fact the interdependence of the rational and irrational mind, or put another way, the interactions between the detached scientific objective mind and the subjective artistic imaginative mind, have corresponded over millennia resulting in parallel developments throughout both disciplines. And whilst art has and continues to provide science with visions that inspire rational articulation, conversely this scientific rationalism continues in its prompting of the artistic imagination to reach ever further into its visionary range of experience. As a result a cyclical knowledge is created that enters the provenance of a self-sustaining ecosystem of inspired output. [2]

To trace this tradition we could comfortably reach back to the Renaissance. However when we look at the interdisciplinary intersections occurring throughout the Northern Renaissance with developing technologies, the arts, science and highly valued observational skills, this period can be seen as a fulcrum of activity from which all disciplines and society as a whole greatly benefited. With artists such as Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) and artists trained by Durer who became the illustrators of the exceptional naturalistic herbals of the sixteenth century, we can clearly understand that the observational and descriptive techniques utilised by these artists held an immense import to the development of empirical sciences. When we fuse the inherent ability of the artistic hand and eye in rendering these works, the technology of the developing camera obscura, with that of the printer entrepreneur we can begin to acknowledge how these previously independent trajectories culminated into funnels of information that energised a culture inspired by nature. In Nuremberg, for example, subsequent to Durer’s epoch, the authority bestowed through the emergence of direct access to the minutiae of nature by means of print media, elevated the productive knowledge of the arts towards an understanding of certain knowledge or science. [3] What begins in the 1830’s is a repositioning of the observer, outside of the fixed relations of interior/exterior presupposed by the camera obscura and into an undemarcated terrain on which the distinction between internal sensation and external signs is irrevocably blurred. This can be seen as a liberation of vision, a plurality of means to recode the activity of the eye, to regiment it to heighten its productivity and to prevent its distraction. [4]

When we look at the abstractions of startling photographic beauty Renata Buziak designates as Biochromes, we are immediately struck by thoughts of the transubstantiative atemporality of nature. This art/science endeavour embraces a distinct affect that literally jolts us from our subsumed linear elasticity and suggests altered temporalities beyond those of a cyclical transience, linear adaptability, experiences of flux, fluidity and vestigial remnants: it is an endeavour that requires a prominent reordering of the indexical nature of our observation whilst simultaneously celebrating the traditional beliefs in the indexical nature of the photographic process. The unmitigated density of the varying strains of knowledge that this body of work proposes coalesce into a paradoxical visual treatise that fixes the subject as an authenticating sign which resists the signification of both life and or death. Bringing us a little closer to the realisation of a universal truth, encompassing the ideas of a fluctuating rhythmic and dynamic state of constant change. We are invited to visually partake in the liminal spaces afforded by the biochemical reorganisation of ‘being’ on a multi cellular level, subjected to the machinations of the camera and the informed artistic choices Buziak makes throughout her process driven, formal, artistic enquiries.

Working in close association with the Quandamooka peoples of Minjerribah, Buziak has transplanted her childhood fascination with the herbal flora proliferating around her home town of Janow Lubelski in Poland, to an aesthetic exploration of Indigenous Australian flora with healing properties. Throughout her most recent exhibitions the heavily driven artistic processes that she adopts both in and out of the studio environment are continuously informed by the varying strands of documented knowledge gathered in situ. In effect these most recent examples of her work strongly communicate an Indigenous connection to place whilst emphasising a rich Indigenous knowledge of the biodiversity specific to North Stradbroke Island. And yet by following the analogue techniques developed around the birth of photography – augmented by digital scanning whilst resisting any form of digital manipulation – Buziak joins a long line of esteemed practitioners whose process closely resembles those utilised in the artistic organisation of the Photogram. [5]

Photograms have long been seen to lend a more primal, a more immediate and raw impression of the image as opposed to lens-based photography. With the direct placement of objects onto the prepared photographic plate there exists an artistically controlled process of structural authentication. We enter a foundational space where we witness the image recording itself directly onto the photographic plate and in that process, evoking an essence of a spiritual immateriality. [6] Following Anna Atkins defining publication, Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843, it is important to note the many artists who have used the Photogram as a medium – think here of Man Ray, Robert Rauschenberg and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy – but also those more contemporary artists such as New York artist Alison Rossiter and Englishman Adam Fuss who today it could be said, seem to be reinventing photography by reaching back toward foundational practices of a hands on aesthetically charged and controlled photographic process developed over almost two centuries ago. [7] And where today that foundation can be at times boosted via an artistically aesthetic escalation of complimentary digital technology in the realisation of the exhibited piece: and although we are all too aware that photographic imagery can lie, whether through staging, digital manipulations or via the accompanying text that anchors the image, it is important to note that throughout the Biochromatic process there is no employment of these digitised deceptions. No trace of a spurious text with which to anchor the image outside of what it actually is. And other than the removal of plant material to that of a more controlled environment, the allure, or perhaps the aura of the Biochome, lingers toward an acute aesthetic fascination throughout the many natural processes of transmogrification observed, documented and importantly, the resultant purity of an authentic integrity of refined impressions emanating from an unselfconscious universal art.

The searching camera unveiled far more than measurable data: In the crystal lattice of a snowflake, in the twirling of a spiral galaxy, in the geodesic eye of an ant, it encountered a harmony and splendor whose existence posed questions as profound as Galileo’s moonlets. The dilemma was no longer that the unsuspected might exist, but that it should be so lovely. [8]

The recognised pioneers of the photographic medium all insisted that photography originated in and was disclosed by nature, that it was in a sense “impressed by nature’s hand”. [9] Now whether this had anything to do with the machinations of the camera obscura that had been utilised widely by artists from the sixteenth century in achieving a form of perspectival guidance toward their realisation of mimesis, or the predating agency afforded to nature over human endeavour, remains pure historical conjecture. However the eminence afforded to the art of observation since Platonic thought, attracted August Comte’s concepts surrounding positivist empiricism that emerged throughout the early 19th century. The age of Enlightenment restructured the hierarchical philosophies of science in the sense that authoritative knowledge was known to stem from a logical, mathematical and sensory sophistication. As opposed to a mere non-participative reception of impressions from nature, the individual subject became an active participant in the constitution of knowledge and with the aid of post-Kantian concepts surrounding that of subjectivity, the only obstacle to knowledge remained the individual self, notwithstanding Comte’s outright rejection of intuitive, introspective or metaphysical knowledge, all traits that are arguably highly valued throughout the arts. [10] To this day we see the descendants of positivist empiricism in the form of neo and post-positivist philosophies gravitating to a science of pure logic, it is a science that has drawn many detractors – particularly from the field of quantum mechanics – as exhibiting a limited scope in its supposed search for knowledge. And yet many of the words and concepts we still use today equate sight with knowledge. It has become deeply embedded in both language and experience that seeing is believing and that the subjective experience of sight is one that has remained perpetually symbolic. [11] In the syntax specific to positivist empiricism the camera was pronounced as a scientific tool for the indexical and mechanical registration of reality. Joseph Nicephore Niepce and his partner Jacques Mande Daguerre presented a daguerreotype to the Paris Academie des Sciences on the seventh of January 1839. By 1851 at world fairs such as the Crystal Palace in London and again four years later at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, the camera was exhibited in the pavilions of industry. However by 1867 photography was placed in its own exhibit halfway between the pavilions of both Industry and the Beaux-Arts. [12] Born in science, utilized in industry and employed by artists no other medium of the day can be seen to play such an important role in the development of more than one discipline.

A photograph is not the reflection of reality, but the reality of that reflection. [13]

Through Buziak’s informed choice of the precise placement of clearly defined living plant materials that harbour healing properties onto chemically prepared photographic plates, that then undergo an approximate six-week exposure in a moderately controlled environment, the Biochrome is created through the spirited interactions between sensitometry and biochemistry, given the constructs of linear time, cyclical time, decay and renewal. The chemical grounds of the photographic plate are in fact perfect environments for the bacteria to proliferate, which remains an essential and central process in the creation of Buziak’s images. [14] Spiralling and morphing, harmonious and at times exhibiting geodesic gestures of a seemingly factured colour, the image is fixed amidst an orgy of bacterial bacchanalia. There is seemingly a lot left to chance and serendipity throughout this process – an artistically organic process of discovery perhaps – however this is a process that echoes the expansion of experimentations developed and (re) articulated by the artist over the ten years of her current photographic explorations.

With the recent introduction of projected time lapses into the gallery space, this indexical documentation of the Biocromatic process extends not only Buziak’s process but also positively asserts an altered medium with which to compliment her oeuvre. In a sense we are privileged with a foundational glimpse into the originating methodology of Buziak’s artistic process. There exists a distinct cinematic quality to these series of images that underline the transubstantiated premise of her work. Of particular interest here is that the cinematic effect of the work is dictated by in excess of 4,000 still images that have been sutured into a filmic representation capturing the sequenced stages of the biochemical process. This paradoxical collision between the verticality of the still image and the horizontality of projected movement creates the filmic illusion that initialises a crossing of the threshold toward an inescapable aesthetic response. We literally become transported from an exterior position of the observer toward being visually and psychologically woven into the fabric of these time lapses. They disconcertingly act as a mnemonic thread of recognition. The affect that this creates within the viewer highlights a felt out of time syncopation between both the linear and cyclical time constructs. Both times are present, however dictated by their shared presence – the linear overlaying the cyclical – a third space is created, seemingly of a time beyond time or perhaps more accurately a felt timelessness. In these works Buziak outlives the age-old traditions of the medium dictated by positivist methodologies. Positivism can simply not account for this overwhelming sense of absence and presence that can be felt to exist and as a consequence to not exist, beyond the constructs of time, decay and renewal. A momentary sensation that we have been transported to a space that conceptually exists beyond the death of the ego as elaborated by Freud and Jung remains durable in the plasticity of its persistence. This metaphysical liminal space of absence that the viewer enters is where both the disciplines of Buziak’s art and positivist science must diverge. The aesthetic import of this out of time phenomenon – whilst not reproduced on a nanoscopic level – re-establishes the overall framing of these time lapses more in line with a quantum understanding of concepts such as the uncertainty principle, observer effects and quantum discord as governed by a universal wave function. It remains an affect that is ultimately unsettling in its determined documentation of the indeterminacy of being.

Seen as a form of professional development, collaboration at its core can be seen to motivate artistic growth. Of particular note here is Buziak’s recent introduction into the gallery space of the aeleatoric indeterminacy shaped by classical percussionist Vanessa Tomlinson. This fusion of disciplines lends a further divergent gravity to the aesthetic import of Buziak’s consummately researched and controlled technical processes. Heightened by the percussive soundscape of Tomlinson, these time lapses hold a distinct capacity to enmesh the viewer in an aesthetic that works in tandem with the synaesthetic vehicle of sound to more easily achieve and elongate a metaphysical sense of no time or perhaps a measured absence. What we begin to feel is a sense of slippage from the physical toward the gravitational pull of the metaphysical. Tomlinson’s performance, utilising two lengths of rope tethered to a single perspectival point which she then percussively manipulates across a collection of found everyday objects is disarming at first in its seeming indeterminacy. However the broad percussive sounds Tomlinson teasers from her palette of reinvigorated objects becomes strangely meditative. The indeterminacy of natural processes as felt by Buziak’s time lapses is emulated in a dynamic, polyrhythmic, meditative state of polished improvisational techniques. At regular intervals the sound collapses into cycles of creation only to be coaxed by Tomlinson into reconstructions of improvisational phrasings. There is a distinct sense of a rhythmic physicality: spirited layers of energy involved in the making of an almost wind chime like effect as Tomlinson’s ropes snake across the surface of varying percussive zones.

Picasso once lamented that ‘art is a lie that brings us closer to the truth’ however what it is that we are experiencing through this collaborative endeavour is a consummately defined artistic authenticity. Arousing thoughts pertaining to the levels of natural agency these ecosystems have at their disposal. It is an authenticity comparable to Eaweard Muybridge’s emblematic images of galloping horses that for many marked a moment where “technological perception definitively outstripped the human eye and ushered in a new mode of seeing”. [15] Appearing to defeat the human construct of time itself the oeuvre of Buziak’s artistic output, at the very least, provides us with an unabashed artistic truth in her depiction of an aspect of our natural world that had remained unassailable to human perception before the advent of technological advances. Harnessing this Buziak has formulated an environment in which the disciplines of both art and science can be seen to operate legitimately through the artistic medium of photography.

Completing her Bachelor of Photography with First Class Honours at Queensland College of Art in 2006, Renata Buziak is currently undertaking her PhD candidature. She has sat on the board of the Queensland Centre for Photography. Her monogram Renata Buziak: Afterimage was launched in 2010 by the Queensland Centre for Photography, and her accompanying research paper published in the Studio Research Journal in July 2014. The Biochromes of Renata Buziak have been exhibited and are collected both nationally and internationally, including though not limited to, the ANCA Gallery in Canberra, Red Gallery in Melbourne, the Queensland Centre for Photography, the Perth Institute for Contemporary Art, Blender Gallery in Sydney, Photo LA and The Opole Contemporary Art Gallery, Academy of Fine Art in Warsaw. Most recently Renata Buziak has been invited by curator Adam Sobota to exhibit Corymbia gummifera (bloodwood)… bactericide…as part of Blue Flask, Piktorial Value of Photography 1914/2014
 which opened on the 16 January 2015 and remained current through to the 15 February 2015 at the The National Museum Wrocław Poland.

Header Image courtesy Renata Buziak, detail, Carpobrotus glaucescens, anaesthetic, biochrome, 120x90cm, 2014.

[1] Foucault, Michael. Crary, Jonathon. Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century. pp 24, Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1990.

[2] Richmond, Sheldon. The interaction of Art and Science. Leonardo, Vol 17 No. 2. pp 81-86, 1984.

[3] Garlick, Steve. Given Time: Biology, Nature and Photographic Vision. History Of the Human Sciences, Vol. 22 No. 5. pp 81-101, 2009.

[4] Ibid.

[5] In conversation with the artist.

[6] Hagen, Charles. Photography Review: Images, but No Camera, New York Times, April 21, 1995. 

[7] Ibid.

[8] Abel, Allen. Invisible realms. Canadian Geographic, pp. 69-75, January 1998.

[9] Marien, Mary Warner. Photography And It’s Critics A Cultural history, 1839-1900. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

[10] Above n3.

[11] Above n8.

[12] Wilder, Kelly. Photography and Science. pp103, University of Chicago Press, 2009.

[13] O’Shaughnessy, 1951, 44.

[14] Above n4.

[15] Above n3.

Krauss, Rosalind E. Reinventing the Medium. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 289-305, The University of Chicago Press, 1999.