Post-Photographic Frenzy

Joseph Nechvatal


Published in 2018 in the Routledge text book

Fragmentation of the Photographic Image in the Digital Age

edited by Daniel Rubinstein.



Post-Photographic Frenzy explores the role of art photography as a tool for a curative visual thinking exemplified in a series of mesh artworks that combine photography with painting with computer graphics. The author (Joseph Nechvatal) uses his own Odyssey Palimpsest computer-robotic assisted painting series (2013-14) to illustrate the way in which photography is one tool among many used to symbolically render a novel approach to the story of Homer’s lost hero Odysseus adrift within our digital sea of images. Post-Photographic Frenzy theorizes a new contemporary aesthetic labor for photography based in levels of unseeablity in the interests of an art of noise. The artistic act of post-photographic frenzy is theorized as a semi-nihilistic energy unleashing forces of reverberation within the clear figure-ground photographic condition so that a nimbler way of seeing may emerge and resonate within a web of inter-connected, molecular and viral relational affects based on the intensities of visual noise, dissonance and deviation.


If there is to be art, if there is to be any aesthetic doing and seeing, one physiological condition is indispensable: frenzy. -Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes. -Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Imagine an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective; an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic.... -Stan Brakhage, Metaphors on Vision

I wish to suggest that in the realm of aesthetics, post-photographic frenzy is that use of the photographic image that both destroys lens-based image-values and creates novel aesthetic values that allow for other intensities to flourish. This chapter will address the aesthetic state of post-photographic frenzy achieved through the intelligent sensuality of art through a body of work that the author (Joseph Nechvatal) has executed in 2013-2014 called the Odyssey Palimpsest. My concern here is with the ethical and liberating use of anti-representationalism within the broader image environment, so I would like to explain a bit of how Odyssey Palimpsest functions while simultaneously promoting the aesthetics of obscurity.

I am a philosophically-inclined contemporary artist interested in liberation politics. Thus post-photographic frenzy will be theorized here as image energy directed against the clear figure-ground1 photographic network-centric condition, so that a more nimble art representationalism may emerge and resonate within a web of inter-connected, molecular and viral relational affects and intensities of visual noise, dissonance and deviation.

Effectively, such an artistic and perceptual shift in representational ontology (a shift which involves many fundamental changes in aesthetic perception) can be expected to engender extraordinarily deep artistic conflicts. So to proceed will entail a review of past and present approaches towards semi-representational aesthetics - for our imagined representations of possible futures depends on the kinds of astute and discriminating questions we seek to construct in our aesthetic philosophy and art historic practices.

Post-photographic frenzy emphasizes affective states over captured images – states of mind/body that we may enter into as a form of creative expression of our will to self-empowerment. Today the meeting of neuroaesthetics and network technology is one of the vital arenas in which interesting currents align for art. My endeavor in this chapter is to give the reader evidence of this fruitful meeting through my recent meshwork series of artworks called Odyssey Palimpsest that were created for an exhibition in New York City at Galerie Richard in late-2015 called Odyssey pandemOnium. These works symbolically return the mind to Homer’s ancient lost hero: Odysseus. The characters Odysseus, his son Telemachus, his waiting wife Penelope, Polyphemus, Poseidon and a lyric siren loosely come together to suggest the beauty and pain of the migrating world. Present in the paintings is a partially hidden world of people and places (and images) lost and at ideological drift, looking for scenic alternatives.

A mix of digital photography and computer graphics, these images have been digitally painted on suede-like velour canvas in dusty and subtle colors. The suede support contributes to the fugitive nature of the floating and migrating imagery. And that double intricacy is what Odyssey pandemOnium is about, in one sense: being misplaced and adrift. The viewer’s eye must navigate the visual pandemonium in a way that suggests Odysseus’s wanderings.

Odyssey Palimpsest places Odysseus’s somewhat odd odyssey in relationship to an artistic post-photographic frenzy that philosophically is concerned with the recent speculative realism2 turn in continental philosophy and aesthetics. It addresses those concerns through an elaborate ornamental scene-sequence that seeks to transmit a lyrical sense of primordial joy and pain. The personages vaguely seen in Odyssey Palimpsest epitomize two famous aesthetic formulations based on Dionysus (the god of intoxication, orgies, forces of nature and music) and Apollo (god of individuation, illusion, form and order). Odyssey Palimpsest’s lyrical premise is that through post-photographic frenzy there is a fusion of Dionysian and Apollonian artistic impulses needed to form artistic tragedies. It is the dialectical interplay of these two opposing - and at the same time complementary - aesthetic elements that exemplifies a central principle of post-photographic frenzy.

Joseph Nechvatal, “nimble Odysseus” (2014) 44 x 66” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velour, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

Odyssey Palimpsest attempts to hypothesize and demonstrate an art of latent excess: an idea for art that was specifically inspired by the rhizomatic thinking of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. The philosophic rhizomatic theory of Deleuze and Guattari, at a general level, supports Odyssey Palimpsest’s art of noise approach, as rhizomatic theory encourages philosophic non-linear and non-restrictive ruminating and imagining. A rhizome literally is a root-like plant stem that forms a large entwined spherical zone of small roots which crisscross. In the philosophical writings of Deleuze and Guattari the term is used as a metaphor for an epistemology (a philosophy concerned with theories of knowledge) that spreads in all directions simultaneously.3 More specifically, Deleuze and Guattari define the rhizome as that which is “reducible to neither the One or the multiple. (...) It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object... .”4

It is pertinent that in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari describe this shift towards boundlessness as one’s becoming a body without organs (BwO) in terms of our self-shifting representational planes emerging out of our field of compositional consistency, for the BwO (according to them) is an insubstantial state of connected being beyond representation which concerns pure becomings and nomadic essences.5

This idea re-establishes an ambiguously private critical distance for the art viewer: a distance achieved through the connective disparity between pleasure and frustration.

Furthermore, Odyssey Palimpsest is a prime example of an art of noise that demands of society an active visualizing participation - and thus is a legitimate metaphor for contemporary art as a form of simulation-shattering engagement. It is an art that can problematize the pop simulacra and hence enliven us to the privateness - and unique separateness - of the human condition in lieu of the fabulously constructed social-net spectacle that engulfs us. This private separateness offers us a personal critical distance (gap), and thus another perspective on (and from) the given social image networked simulacra.

Through the destructive-creative bacchanalia at the root of Odyssey Palimpsest’s art of latent excess (circuitous, excessive and decadent), the viewer is provoked to lose the position of detached observer. As such, Odyssey Palimpsest demands engaged intellectual and perceptual production. The images in the series fuse chaotic disturbance with beautiful classical forms in an attempt at situating the viewer somewhere between the surface of empirical-diverse reality and the chasm of shattering incoherence where they must pick through the image meshwork and recover figurative meaning out of the entangled ground. This visualization approach to art relates to my book Immersion Into Noise (2011)6 where I have mapped out a broad-spectrum of aesthetic activity I call the art of noise by tracing its past eruptions where figure/ground merge and flip the common emphasis to some extent. Immersion Into Noise concludes with a look at the figural aspect of this aesthetic lodged within the ground of consciousness itself.

But to understand the benefits of Odyssey Palimpsest we must address noise aesthetics and the art context within the murmur of our broad-spectrum, data-monitoring environment of background machine-to-machine gigabyte communications - and think through and deploy Odyssey Palimpsest as an embedded subject within the web of ubiquitous computing cognitive capitalism.7 In brief, the noise art aesthetics of Odyssey Palimpsest is a zone where qualitative shifts of coordinates takes place in which it is possible to carry out figure/ground art reversals. As the representational imagery is classically consequential, what the noise art aesthetics of Odyssey Palimpsest offers is the possibility of understanding established things in a different way by shifting boundaries and departing from established functions. By flipping traditional figure/ground emphasis, Odyssey Palimpsest makes use of variously formed segments, stratas, and rhythms which involve territorializing as well as de-territorializing. It is this nomadic non-representational counter-mannerist representation which breaks the eye out of the fascination and complicity with the photographic image and the mass media mode of communication it supports.8

As an artist-thinker, I am interested with Odyssey Palimpsest in encouraging a fresh contemporary art based in uncertain unseeablity that focuses on a commitment to the challenging aesthetics of becoming imperceptible.9 As such, I am interested with Odyssey Palimpsest in a post-photographic aesthetics that is bent on combining the felt, vibrant world embedded within a wider vision of political awareness that includes private numinous themes accessible through the generative subjectivity of each individual. This is an aesthetics of perception breaking free from capture technologies based on felt resonances.

The Odyssey Palimpsest post-photographic frenzy is based in an image nihilism that can transform a metamorphosis subject to the flickering formative forces of emergence.10 Thus, Odyssey Palimpsest is not an example of a passive art form, but of a generative and virulent and curative (if nihilistic) art that unleashes forces of visual reverberation to emerge and resonate like a web of inter-connected, molecular and viral relational affects and intensities. Such a noisy, dissonant, deviation, for me, is at the heart of great art and is what enables art to express hope within the reality of tragedy. However, this de-simulating openness, which an inception of the rhizomatic art of latent excess assumes, demands that the viewer seek a liberation from custom, doctrine and influence, and that she grasps the autonomy and priority of art as a special type of excessive ideological activity.

Joseph Nechvatal, “penelOpe in agOny” (2014) 44 x 66” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velour, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

The open secret of Odyssey Palimpsest is situated in exchanges of figure and ground relationships that depend on playing out nihilistic negativity by intensifying its forces into an affirmative nihilism. So Odyssey Palimpsest, as an example of post-photographic frenzy, is implicated in the cohesiveness of the ‘self/other’ distinction, as it disintegrates the captured readable image into an ontological instability produced by the semi-annihilation or masking of the ‘real.’ As such, Odyssey Palimpsest can depict the underground vigor of form in a state of active dynamism that can only be speculated at by thinking beyond the visible. And that enacts a shift away from the subject-object dualism that is currently embedded in the photographic tradition.

The embeddedness of our secret, inner world is the life of our imagination. It harbors our intense drives, suspicions, fears, and loves and guides our intentions and actions in the artistic as well as political and even economic image world. What I think of as frenzy-gazing11 is the way to discover all aspects of this inner life. So I wish to consider now that, in contrast to our frenzied data market surveillance culture (that trains us to fear the atrocious eyes of outer perception) a protracted post-photographic frenzy art practice based in absorption, as seen in Odyssey Palimpsest, could encourage the development of agile and clandestine exchanges based on the embedded intuitive eyes where each individual shares a sensibility for building a defensive force against objective reality impositions. Of course this sphere of anti-purist gazing is essentially a cooperative rejection of the tyranny of essential image identities. It is what allows post-photographic frenzy to construct unstable distinctions in the entire spectrum of the imaginary; from the infinitude of actual forms, to the abstractions of virtuality. Subsequently, Odyssey Palimpsest asks for engagement with a challenging exchange of the hierarchy of figure and ground (also, figure and abstraction) through a struggle between vision, visual noise and invisibility.12 So I want to argue with the imagery of Odyssey Palimpsest for an agony style that entails something of a loss of logo-like visibility.

Such principles of constructing patterns of infinite becomings is, I would argue, inherent in traditional avant-garde values of Dada. But a new Dada now, I think, should be considered in terms of noisy semi-invisibility and not a confrontation of one ontology against another. Deviating from the regularities of visible normality provides Odyssey Palimpsest its own apparent withdrawing impact. Certainly, the values of the Dadaesque avant-garde have always been interfering with the channels of artistic production and reception - and these values are responsible for expanding the forms and definitions of art itself. But like in nature, post-photographic frenzy plays an apparent productive role in the invisible life of a system when it stresses becoming-imperceptible. But a becoming-imperceptible post-photographic today can no longer be a form of enfant terrible withdrawal, akin to Marcel Duchamp’s brilliant strategic invisibility,13 but rather a phantasmagorical plunge into what Félix Guattari expresses as the chaosmosis where “the work of art, for those who use it, is an activity of unframing, of rupturing sense, of baroque proliferation or extreme impoverishment that leads to a recreation and a reinvention of the subject itself.”14 Thus Odyssey Palimpsest marks a qualitative transformation into an art place where being and non-being reverse into each other, unfolding out and enfolding in their respective outsides. This short-circuit causes a creative conflagration typical of Odyssey Palimpsest and the art of noise, in general.

Joseph Nechvatal, “drifting telemachus” (2014) 44 x 66” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velour, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

Let’s consider now the difference between post-photographic frenzy versus the gigantic mass-network-machine data market, with its digital image functionalism. For me the difference with Odyssey Palimpsest is in looking into and projecting onto something - thereby discovering an emerging manifestation based in semi-invisibility - as opposed to looking at something. In that sense post-photographic frenzy requires an active and slow participation on the part of the viewer - and the noise style of Odyssey Palimpsest demands as much. It requires mental participation - now essential in our climate of networked mass media - in that it plays against the grain of given objective consensus visibility. In that sense Odyssey Palimpsest is more like a service product (or a server) than an art object.

However, my main interest in semi-invisibility with Odyssey Palimpsest lay in a texture of emerging claims of art-as-politics - with its emphasis on the production of individuality based in a political physiology15 with a strong proposition of emergence as the key aspect. So, the post-photographic frenzy of Odyssey Palimpsest is an art of noise that privileges emergent properties that themselves are rooted in indeterminacy-based semi-obscurity.

Now I would like to look more specifically at the possibility of further developments in palimpsest-based noise art aesthetics concerning where becoming-imperceptible and becoming-perceptible nimbly interact. As sketched out in my book Immersion Into Noise, the evolution of visual noise art develops from certain pre-historic cave areas and Baroque grottoes, to certain levels of Mannerist and Counter-Mannerist complexity, to noisy spatial renderings in various exuberant architectural styles, then into Cubism, Futurism, Dada, Fluxus and other 20th century avant-garde movements, into the screech of industrial noise music, and into the softness of software noise art aesthetics.

As part of this trajectory, Odyssey Palimpsest’s acknowledged probing at the outer limits of recognizable representation, and its excited all-over fullness and fervor within this syncretistic probe, isn’t a failing of communications within the excessive terms of the art of noise, then. It is its subject. Such a copious realization is insinuated through Odyssey Palimpsest’s overloaded and excessive stimulus inasmuch as its semi-identifiable subjects buried in the field of latent excess can conceivably be read in terms of many visual meanings. So even the fusion of actual elements within Odyssey Palimpsest’s rhizomatic latent excess are not passively received and easily accepted.

The art of Odyssey Palimpsest means a re-positioning of image identity within an atmospheric and artistic ontological model of sublime entirety because its structure is based on a rich labyrinthine ensemble of relations, diversities, connections, heterogeneities, that can break or be formed into unexpected links which inter-connect. This leads to the visual-intellectual situation of Odyssey Palimpsest as one of magnanimous self-connectivity.

As such, one might say that the ruin of representation16 in Odyssey Palimpsest equates to the semi-disintegration of the captured photographic image. Certainly that is all the truer when photography adheres to its essential rendering of rational, framed, linear pointed-perspective: that perspective which dominated the Italian Quattrocento that is often called ‘true’ point-perspective. Sure, there are some examples of Cubist or Dada photography which displaces the point of view common to the art form, but each one usually contains a rendering of a scene from one fixed and tapered eye-point at a time. Moreover, ‘straight’ photography usually depends on technical perspective framing intended to eliminate what is deemed unessential in the still image or motion picture, to direct the spectator’s attention to what is important and to give it special meaning and force. Each frame of film, which corresponds in shape to the image projected on the screen, forms the basis for a graphic composition in the same way as the frame of a painting encloses the area in which the painting must be organized. Although some theatres in the 1970s were enlarged and widened to accommodate 70 millimeter images, a trend toward smaller theatres fixed the image ratio close to 1.85 to 1 in the United States and 1.66 to 1 in Europe. On the contrary, the Géode in Paris has a 118-foot sphere containing a cinema in which 180° films are projected on a hemispheric screen made up of 3,280 square feet.

Underlying the Odyssey Palimpsest project is such an immersive defiance of the limits of ordinary perception and representational simulacra. Thus it is (or can be) about the opposition between the daily workday and the transgressive or even ecstatic moment. In a sense Odyssey Palimpsest attempts to set up a stable form of ecstatic transgression where the viewer can go rhizomaticly back and forth and in and out at will. So yes, Odyssey Palimpsest is a rhizomatic art of latent excess that takes us away from the habitual focus of the picturesque and potentially liberates us inwardly from the infringements stemming from the deluge of mass-media images. And as so, it stimulates the attentive viewer to assess anew the caliber of any such infringement. Hence it is in the amity felt with the excessive and rhizomatic ground of Odyssey Palimpsest that one may feel a sensuous liberation from ideological monotony and cultural prudery.

As noted above, what is important in Odyssey Palimpsest and the art of noise aesthetics is its intentional and elongated semi-invisibility enigma. That is why this subject is so hard to write about. The very topic is a very difficult one to pin down and make intelligible for good reason. Odyssey Palimpsest and the art of noise is an art of disbelief in habitual codes of practice and understanding. You must take Odyssey Palimpsest on its own art of noise terms or risk doing psychic violence to my art.

In general, the art of noise is not a set of homogeneous practices, but a complex field converging around perceived weaknesses in surveillance systems. Such a noisy hyper-cognitive stance happens when the particular of electronic connectivity is seen as part of an accrual total system by virtue of its being connected to everything else while remaining dissonant. Noise aesthetics theory involves complex ambiguous gazing, and its resultant art of resistance and investigation should be increasingly valuable to net-savvy social movements based on undermining click-market predictabilities, as it strengthens unique personal powers of imagination and solo critical thinking. It counters the effects of our age of simplification: effects which have resulted from the glut of celebrity consumer-oriented entertainment and eye candy political propaganda in the interests of corporate profit and governmental manipulation.

Joseph Nechvatal, “playing telemachus” (2014) 66 x 44” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velour, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

The post-photographic noise art aesthetic of Odyssey Palimpsest is that of dissonant immersion into a maelstrom of glossolalia unintelligibility, chaos and exaltation. Such an art of noise style is a way of seeing that reverses the order of figure/ground to ground/figure. It collapses being into semi-non-being – which leads to an ontological implosion. Yet it creates ambivalent and aleatory17 processes that are truer to our inner essential world: our own experienced dynamic pools of identity expansion and disintegration.

Odyssey Palimpsest refuses easy consumption then and encourages love, because a love of the visual noise of Odyssey Palimpsest will make other perturbing events more tolerable. Odyssey Palimpsest should make you, the reader, able to see more and even make you more adaptable to disturbances, rather than being torn up about them. It will help you to avoid psychic ossification by your loving the space of latent expanse. This is what suggests referring Odyssey Palimpsest to the aesthetics of the sublime, which, in the 18th century, was linked to the grandness of natural phenomena. But Odyssey Palimpsest is a net version of the sublime in which the embeddedness that we recognize ourselves in concerning nature matches up with our hotwired social tech envelope. This embed awareness can be suggested and promoted by noisy artistic becomings, such as Odyssey Palimpsest - as its overwhelming cognitive aspects serve to produce unpredictable results.

Poetically, the hyper and noisy dense visual texture of Odyssey Palimpsest suggests a possibility of connecting ourselves psychically to the great chain of being: that which precedes us and of which we are a part. For this rattling chain I have invented the term hyper-noise:18 that is noise art produced via many connected-competing vectors and figure/grounds. This art concept owes something to Quentin Meillassoux’s idea of hyper-Chaos that was sketched out in his book After Finitude: a form of absolutizing where nothing is impossible or unthinkable.19 But it must be grasped that hyper-Chaos is not just disorder, but that it also may produce order and stability, even little static worlds, as well as the complete destruction of what is or was.

The post-photographic hyper-noise aspect of Odyssey Palimpsest refuses easy consumption and encourages something close to a white noise state. In signal processing, white noise is a random signal having equal intensity at different frequencies, giving it a constant power spectral density. The term is used, with this or similar meanings, in many scientific and technical disciplines, including physics, acoustic engineering, telecommunications, and statistical forecasting. White noise refers to a statistical model for signals and signal sources, rather than to any specific signal, so the generative aspect of Odyssey Palimpsest is perhaps the most evident example of this hyper-noise sublime opportunity. White noise post-conceptual generative art serves to produce unpredictable results when it is based on arithmetic instructions contained in the software, as in the C++ artificial life20 code behind my Odyssey Palimpsest project. A digital art of noise means primarily some form of generative or semi-generative coding in which the artist establishes the operational tenets or choices that are calculated to act autonomously or semi-autonomously.

Such noise aesthetics is hypothetical in the recognition of our sheer potentiality: all the selves we have within to develop or burn out. All the worlds we might create or destroy. It implies that we are more diverse than we had imagined; and more tolerant than presumed. It humbles us by pointing out that what we have in common is a dangerous propensity for overrating our powers of comprehension, as it is recalcitrant by design. It affirms with jubilation states of varied mutability.

The post-photographic aesthetics behind Odyssey Palimpsest tears phallogocentrisim21 apart to confront the diversity in us, and in each other. This lesson is a necessity, and the recognition of this necessity is part of the peculiar pleasure that Odyssey Palimpsest affords: a pleasure of rapturous abandonment where the intended effect is inner liberation by means of de-simulation. The application of this art of noise post-photographic aesthetic opens up a sense of discovery that marked art’s beginnings on Prehistoric cave walls with the anonymous collective of skilled artists who created an incredible immersive work of noise art in the Abside (Apse) of the Grotte de Lascaux. The Apse is a roundish, semi-spherical, penumbra-like chamber (like those adjacent to Romanesque basiliques) approximately 4.5 meters in diameter (about 5 yards) covered on every wall surface (including the ceiling) with thousands of entangled, overlapping, engraved drawings for which, on request, I received a very unique privilege of seeing.22 The ceiling of the Apse of Lascaux (which ranges from 1.6 up to 2.7 meters high (about 5.2 to 8.9 feet) as measured from the original floor height) is so completely and richly bedecked with these engravings that it indicates that the prehistoric people who executed them first constructed a scaffold to do so.23 This indicates to me that the Apse was an important and sacred part of the cave and indeed Mario Ruspoli calls it the “strongest, most richly symbolic, most mysterious and most sacred” of all the inner spaces which make up Lascaux.24

Enhanced detail from the Abside of the Grotte de Lascaux, Dordogne (France) via Wikipedia

Generally, the Apse has been ignored by art theoreticians and there is only one widely published scholarly investigation of it per se,25 even though Abbé André Glory26 spent several years trying to decipher this inextricable chamber. This is because nowhere is the eye permitted to linger over any detail, even though it holds an immense 2.5 meter engraving (8.2 foot) in its midst. Rather, the gaze is urged on by an all-inclusive flood of sublimated optic information in need of visual stamina. Nevertheless, the Apse holds a semi-legible comprehensive index of all of the forms of representation found scattered throughout the entire cave, thus making up what Ruspoli calls Lascaux’s core.27 What pleased and fascinated me about the Apse, in terms of post-photographic frenzy, was exactly its cryptic and foreboding over-all hyper-totalizing iconographic character granted by its boundless, palimpsestesque, wall-paper-like image explosion of overlapping near non-photo-reproducible stockpiled drawings - from which, when sustained visual attention is maintained, unexpected configurations visually emerge. Here animals are superimposed in chaotic discourse, some fully and carefully rendered, others unfulfilled and left open to penetration by the environment, all commingled with an extraordinary confused jumble of lines including, remarkably, the sole claviform sign in the Périgord28 and, even more remarkably, Lascaux’s only reindeer, an animal which existed in plenitude during the period of the adornment of Lascaux. Its extensive use of superimposed multiple-operative optic perception29 presents the viewer with no single point of reference, no orientation, no top, no bottom, no left, no right, and no separate parts to its whole. As a result of this homospatiality of the Apse, I had the peculiar feeling of being flooded over by a cloud-like image pool of deep meanings which I could not uncover. As such, it seemed an imposition onto Paleolithic culture of the very thing that should unstable it: nihilism. Nihilism in that it is no longer a matter of heterogeneous figuration, but of scanning a homospatial crisscrossing and oscillating battle scene between interwoven figures, immersed in their ideational ground with which they have merged in a deliberate process of constitutional disfiguration. There is no longer any space outside of the figures to define them, and hence, in a mental reversal, space is immersed in the overlapping figures. The nihilistic cancellation at work here then seemed to be an attempt to deny the validity of subject/object understanding and to deny that any visual erudition of anything whatsoever is possible in the interests of art of noise introspection.

The French philosopher Georges Bataille said that what was curious about the Apse was that the artists “abandoned their oeuvre to the next to come after them in an ant-like activity” yet “they did not engrave their figures with less conviction or care.”30 Obviously the artists here did not work from a life model but from the overlapping introspective depths of their visual memories. Likewise, the Apse seems to call upon the viewer to construct a mnemonic psychological interpretation of it based on its tightly woven, intricate abundance, i.e., its latent excess. But even after introspectively synthesizing the overlapping imploded individual parts into a mnemonic coherent whole, the Apse retained for me a provocative discord and irritation which tantalized my mind farther towards a withheld encoded signification.

For sure, here I was inside of a homospatial site of overrunning flux and of hybridization; a place for the rejection of photographic-like realism. The Apse then represents a thrusting off of optic and mental boundaries and thus is a complex mirroring of our own fleeting impressions which constitute the movement of our consciousness; the perpetual weaving and unweaving of ourselves. Within its post-photographic frenzy we ourselves are not static, and we have little use for static, reductive, photographic practices. We are inside a hot dialectical space that carries its own nihilistic opposite within.

Particularly dense with the frenzy of overlapping imagery is the part of the Apse called the Absidiole, a small, niche-like hollow (like the semi-spherical small niches which house holy relics attached to the apse in Romanesque basiliques) just in front of the drop into the Pit. Standing here I could ostensibly participate in a play of multiple-immersions into post-photographic frenzy as I stood in the Absidiole inside of the Apse which is located inside the groin of the cave itself. Assuredly, photographic vision here is no longer the controlling power over animals in nature, but on the contrary, vision itself is engulfed in nature’s womb. The motivational force which quickens the Apse then seems to be a desire to undermine perpetual vision and replace it with another type of impregnable (post-photographic) vision, or at least to suggest that there may be other types of vision possible. Thus its essentially nihilistic excess serves the positive function of questioning the validity of the customary appearance of things and to make connective understanding inextricably felt.

Indeed the basic function of the visual turbulence of the Apse from the fragmented photographic perspective, is to precisely shake our conviction that our visual capturing tools are sound and to hold any such assured convictions, rather, in suspension. Hence it is only routine that formal issues (where consciousness may be said to be self-referential and self-sufficient) would arise over any humanist narrative ethic, as the Apse is more concerned with a recycling of psychological energy than with optically correct astuteness. Hence, freed from representational obligations, dark chaotic powers of consciousness are unleashed via the Apse’s repressed excessive exuberance as an act of post-photographic frenzy.

To be, or not to be: that is the paradigmatic choice when visualizing form into and out of existence when examining the elusive alternatives made manifest here. Being, beings, or nothingness: all are tentative conditions of resolution (or forestalled resolution) here; all spout their own ontological/neurological preferences.

This scouring of assertive vision with post-photographic frenzy must have been deemed necessary only precisely here, as in the other galleries, very often, superimposed images respected the marks previous laid down and sensitively incorporated them into the ensuing hybrid super-impositional compositions.

By ransacking representational vision so, the Apse paradoxically partakes in the category typical of major art (regardless of its marginal standing within the cave and within Prehistory) as it seemingly rejects the iconic figurative tradition in order to reinvent figuration as entrancing meta-(or supra)-representation. Thus it is major in the way that John Cage’s musical composition/non-composition 4’33” is31 in forcing us to astutely consider silence as sound. And as such, it is a meditation on fullness and emptiness: on the emptiness of fullness and the fullness of emptiness. And this is its key post-photographic art of noise value.

One may speculate that the Apse served (and/or reflected) a psychic process where the self is experienced as capacity rather than existential identity, and where the evaluation of self has been revised from bound to boundless. Such consciousness represents a paradigm shift which relativizes other recognitions of self-consciousness. It is pertinent that in A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari describe this shift towards boundlessness as one’s becoming a body without organs (BwO) in terms of our self-shifting representational planes emerging out of our field of compositional consistency, for the BwO (according to them) is “an insubstantial state of connected being beyond representation which concerns pure becomings and nomadic essences.”32 Deleuze and Guattari go on to say that the BwO “causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension. It is not space nor is it in space; it is matter that occupies space to a given degree - to the degree corresponding to the intensities produced.”33 According to Brian Massumi, the translator into English of A Thousand Plateaus, the BwO is “an endless weaving together of singular states, each of which is an integration of one or more impulses.”34

So in that ancient cave apse I already had found an alternative, phantasmagorical, post-photographic way to express the agitation between form and ground that is required now if we are to escape the pull of the black hole of surveillance. However, this way requires an active imagination enhanced and aided by art of noise visualizations.

Joseph Nechvatal, “vexed telemachus adrift” (2014) 17.7 x 23.6” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velour, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

Odyssey Palimpsest then can be thought of as a mysterious scene sequence that disrupts smooth photographic image operations with buried visual hysteria. Its visual semi-incomprehensibility by design connects capture technology to optic gazing frenzy through what I think to be the use of a personal type of chaos magic.35 Odyssey Palimpsest helps create visualization bridges between form and intuition, as its uncertain images have more information in them than a clear and certain image where the information quickly becomes redundant. Thus, hopefully, Odyssey Palimpsest gives rise to new visual thought and promotes the emergence of new forms of an old story: art.

As we know, we have inherited a logocentric visual apparatus from the Renaissance. The invention of photography, and the astounding rapidity with which it spread, is closely connected to the fact that perspective, and its specific corresponding intellectual configuration, had pervaded visual habit since then. Renaissance linear perspective however, it must be remembered, is only a convention which is a cultural attribute comprehensible only for a quite specific sense of space or perception of the world and is definitely not an absolute perceptual truth.

But in this respect we are the exhausted descendants of the engendering of linear perspective (the so-called rules that determine the relative size of objects on a flat plane) used to capture images of bodies in environments. That is why Odyssey Palimpsest does not wish to adhere to the paradigmatic norms of photo representation, as it does not wish to supplant the phallocentric order, nor the imagination deficiency nurtured by the typical pastiche approach of postmodern aesthetics. Yet the issue is really one of form and style, rather than content. The perspectivist viewer of standard photographic images is mostly excluded from deep participation in the creative act, held at bay as it were, in the interests of ‘objective’ voyeurism. Correspondingly, the representational world, as seen through the lens by this immobile and atemporal gaze, becomes stagnant, reified, fixated, inert and, one might even say, deadened. So, the post-photographic use of digital photography as anti-representation in Odyssey Palimpsest entails an ambient and simultaneous impulse which returns framed and centered perspective to its rightful place as a contingent, but instrumental, convention. Odyssey Palimpsest accepts that position as a valuable point of departure within the slim bifurcation that has already occurred between the capture technology of the 20th Century (straight surveillance photography) and the far more elastic and participatory digital technology of the computer. Surely this is true if capture photography adheres to its central function of linear perspective creator, through what Robert Romanyshyn has called the “celebration of the eye of distance”36 now elevated into a controlling cognitive methodology.

As mentioned above, what is important in Odyssey Palimpsest is its intentional enigma. The once captured image needs to be made obscure to the degree that its identity codes cannot be easily discerned. This phantasmagorical obscurity and mystery is, for many like me, desirable in a world that has become increasingly surveyed and unfree. Spontaneous life is becoming ever more data-mined, mapped, quantified, and identified in a straight-forward matter of fact way. So a will for magical enigma is the basis for discovering and entering into a post-photographic art of noise.

Systems of surveillance representation operate by establishing a fixed standard as the norm or model, so may I also suggest we look for the post-photographic ruin of representation in certain artistic uses of virtual reality (VR), specifically with VR’s advantage of presenting visual/audio information through its fundamentally spherical, all-over, 360° panoramas. I am not talking about VR (actually the term ‘virtual environment’ (VE) – is the more accurate term) which remakes the rules of tracked photographic surveillance representation which we are accustomed to, but rather that which places the subject inside the perceptual circuitry of a particularly lavish (i.e., aesthetically-informationally intense) proprioceptive zone where tracking data is not stored. The key value of such a creative post-photographic immersion, in terms of formulating an original theory of representation in ruins, is in its underscoring the fiction behind the assumed ‘real’ mechanistic perspective when seen as empirically true and universally valid instead of as conventional and as a contingent compliance that can be held and controlled or emancipated.

As immersive 360°ity places us in the position of indeterminate unknowing (indeed in the position of the impossibility of knowing what we are to see/think in one intuitive moment) where conceptions of ‘objective’ or ‘subjective’ become inter-relational questions; questions which disable previous emphasis on the false objectivism of photographic representation accorded to cultural production. In the post-photographic condition, with its arduous inter-relational questioning, what is clarified in terms of the ruin of representation in Odyssey Palimpsest is the human idiosyncratic ability to imaginatively convert excess and absence into incidence.

Joseph Nechvatal, “penelOpe pandemOnium” (2014) 44 x 66” computer-robotic assisted acrylic on velour, courtesy Galerie Richard, New York

Linear perspective photographic vision has constructed now a surveillance world which has become its own object of observation. Such photographic objective rendering, with its emphasis on the horizon-line and vanishing point, is threatened when an art of noise VR is used to its fullest advantage as presenter of subjective, spherical, all-over, 360° perspectives. Of course the vast majority of media images (and much visual art) produced today still cleaves to the horizon-line based Quattrocento framing operation, as opposed to the immersive post-photographic field-of-view span, where horizon and frame dissolution is desirable.

Within post-photographic art of noise theory, no image idea has a fixed meaning and no form of understanding has an unchanging validity. Indeed, its form of obscure excess is how the art of noise challenges distinctive ontological beliefs about the limits of the self and the validity of lens captured representations used in seeing the self. The goal of my post-photographic frenzy series is to disrupt instrumental visual logic and contradict, counteract, and cancel out hollow feelings. Suffering and joy, like figure and ground, are here tied together in frenzy; neither one without the other. Thus Odyssey Palimpsest may produce anger and stress in us (and in the system); one might even say an anxiety of disintegration. So dedication to its merits, if there are any, might well be described as vaguely heroic (like Odysseus and Penelope), because Odyssey Palimpsest suggests the revelation of a plentiful nihilistic life force in and around us that cannot be fully seen or conveyed. Indeed, Odyssey Palimpsest implies for visual art something of a lyric cul-de-sac of ill communication. In other words, a vacuole37 that might even be considered as the communication of enigma itself.

There are now many artists who see the viral metaphorical dimension of a work as of little importance. I am not one of them. For me, the cultural worth of contemporary art is in its ability to vigorously enter conventional image hosts and render within them an overload of excessive, sensually-embodied, implications. Such viral post-photographic aesthetics are indistinguishable from the art of noise theory and artistic practice that produced Odyssey Palimpsest. But behind Odyssey Palimpsest is not only viral artificial life coding, but an identification with the frantic (if painful) beauty of primal unity.

My urge with Odyssey Palimpsest was to tear off the veil of vision and to uncover the mysterious viral background of life through Dionysian analogy. Such a post-photographic Dionysian approach to art includes the eternal joy of becoming that is the creative act. So the viral post-photographic Dionysian approach embraces the frenzied chaotic nature of experience as all-important; not just on its own, but also as it is intimately connected within the Apollonian. My post-photographic viral code can change how we view life only so far as we realize that it emphasizes the harmony that can be found within chaotic experience.

Such a thinking of frenzy through the prism of Dionysian viral post-photographic aesthetics was agitating me as I created Odyssey Palimpsest within the wild natural settings of Corsica and Provence. My goal was to strive for a harmonious tragedy that allows us to sense an underlying essence of primordial unity, so as to revive our Dionysian nature. This is an almost indescribably pleasurable feeling to try to capture, but it was my goal for Odyssey Palimpsest. I wanted to create a post-photographic viral art as a means of self-transcendent turbulence, and I hope the results have created various viral ripples of invigorating frenzy within our ocean of increasingly fragmented photographic images. For we need a post-photographic raft on which we may float, like Homer’s lost hero, on the tide of our overwhelming sea of images.

Joseph Nechvatal



Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes: Lascaux: La Naissance de l’Art, (Paris, Gallimard, 1979)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987)

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, (London, Verso Books, 1994)

Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1995)

Arlette Leroi-Gourhan, Lascaux Inconnu, (Paris, C.N.R.S., 1979)

Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, (Cambridge, Ma., MIT Press, 1992)

Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, (London, Continuum, 2008)

Joseph Nechvatal, Immersion Into Noise, (Ann Arbor, Open Humanities Press, 2011)

Dorothea Olkowski, Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999)

Robert Romanyshyn, Technology as Symptom and Dream, (London, Routledge, 1989)

Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record, (New York, Abrams, 1987)


1 It is noteworthy that the characteristic organization of perception is into a figure that stands out against an undifferentiated background, e.g. a printed word against a background page. What is figural at any one moment depends on patterns of sensory stimulation and on the momentary interests of the perceiver.

2 Speculative realism is a movement in contemporary philosophy which defines itself loosely in its stance of metaphysical realism against the dominant forms of post-Kantian philosophy or what it terms correlationism. While often in disagreement over basic philosophical issues, the speculative realist thinkers have a shared resistance to philosophies of human finitude inspired by the tradition of Immanuel Kant.

3 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, (London, Verso Books, 1994), 7.

4 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 21.

5 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 510.

6 Joseph Nechvatal, Immersion Into Noise, (Ann Arbor, Open Humanities Press, 2011)

7 Stupendous amounts of data generated by nearly one billion people are set in motion each day as, with an innocuous click or tap, people download movies on iTunes, check credit card balances through Visa’s Web site, send e-mail with files attached, buy products, post on Twitter or read newspapers and art theory papers online.

8 Perhaps it is relevant here to remember that Mannerism (generally the art of the period of Late-Renaissance circa 1530-1600) was an aesthetic movement that valued highly refined gracefulness and elegance; a beautiful maniera (style) from which Mannerism takes its name. The term usually means an art in which lavish attention is paid to stylization and to the superficialities of semblance.

9 “Although all becomings are already molecular, including becoming woman, it must be said that all becomings begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all the other becomings. […] If becoming- woman is the first quantum, or molecular segment, with the becomings-animal that link up with it coming next, what are they all rushing toward? Without a doubt, toward becoming-imperceptible. The imperceptible is the immanent end of becoming, its cosmic formula. […]” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 279.

10 In philosophy, systems theory, science, and art, emergence is the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Emergence is central to the theories of integrative levels and of complex systems.

11 Gaze; to look long and intently. Gaze is often indicative of wonder, fascination and revelation.

12 Perhaps this should not be surprising given the hidden complexity of a basic internet transaction is a mystery to most users: Sending a message with photographs to a neighbor could involve a trip through hundreds or thousands of miles of Internet conduits and multiple data centers before the e-mail arrives across the street.

13 Marcel Duchamp’s entire artistic activity since the definitive incompletion of the Large Glass in 1923 was an exercise in strategic invisibility, giving rise to objects and events which--because they were apparently too impermanent or unimportant or insubstantial, or because they eluded established genre conventions, or because they confused or diluted authorial identity--evaded recognition as works of art.

14 Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1995), 131.

15 a political function of living systems

16 A phrase developed by Dorothea Olkowski in her book Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999)

17 Aleatoricism is the incorporation of chance into the process of creation, especially the creation of art or media. The word derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice.

18 Joseph Nechvatal, Immersion Into Noise, (Ann Arbor, Open Humanities Press, 2011), 31.

19 Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier, (London, Continuum, 2008), 64.

20 Artificial life (often abbreviated as A-Life) is a field of study that examines systems related to natural life, its processes, and its evolution, through the use of simulations with computer models, robotics, and biochemistry.

21 In critical theory and deconstruction, phallogocentrism is a neologism coined by Jacques Derrida to refer to the privileging of the masculine (phallus) in the construction of meaning. The word is a portmanteau of the older terms phallocentrism (focusing on the masculine point of view) and logocentrism (focusing on language in assigning meaning to the world).

22 Joseph Nechvatal, Immersion Into Noise, (Ann Arbor, Open Humanities Press, 2011), 76-89.

23 Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record, (New York, Abrams, 1987), 146-147.

24 Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record, (New York, Abrams, 1987), 146.

25 by Denis Vialou in Arlette Leroi-Gourhan, Lascaux Inconnu, (Paris, C.N.R.S., 1979)

26 By 1963, Abbé André Glory identified nearly 1,500 images in Lascaux and produced nearly 120 sq. meters of tracings.

27 Mario Ruspoli, The Cave of Lascaux: The Final Photographic Record, (New York, Abrams, 1987) 147.

28 Arlette Leroi-Gourhan, Lascaux Inconnu, (Paris: C.N.R.S., 1979), 315.

29 optic perception unifies objects in a spatial continuum

30 Georges Bataille, Oeuvres Completes: Lascaux: La Naissance de l'Art, (Paris, Gallimard, 1979), 59.

31 433(pronounced: Four minutes, thirty-three seconds) is a three-movement composition by American experimental composer John Cage composed in 1952, for any instrument or combination of instruments. The score instructs the performer(s) not to play their instrument(s) during the entire duration of the piece throughout the three movements. The piece consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed although it is commonly perceived as four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence. The title of the piece refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of a given performance, 433 being the total length of the first public performance.

32 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 510.

33 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, (Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 153.

34 Brian Massumi, A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, (Cambridge, Ma., MIT Press, 1992), 70.

35 Some common sources of inspiration for chaos magic include such diverse areas as science fiction, scientific theories, ceremonial magic, shamanism, Eastern philosophy, and individual experimentation.

36 Robert Romanyshyn, Technology as Symptom and Dream, (London, Routledge, 1989), 33.

37 This is a reference to Gilles Deleuze’s notion of the vacuole. This concept of non-communication comes from Deleuze’s essay “Postscript on Control Societies” where his notion of control is connected to information-communication technology as pulled out of the work of the writer William S. Burroughs. A vacuole is like a sac in a cell’s membrane, completely bound up inside the cell but also separate from it. Vacuoles play a significant role in autophagy, maintaining an imbalance between biogenesis (production) and degradation (or turnover) of many substances and cell structures. They also aid in the destruction of invading bacteria or of misfolded proteins that have begun to build up within the cell. The vacuole is a major part of the plant and animal cell.