by Tiane Doan Na Champassak

Galvanized by Cronenberg’s dystopian Videodrome, the visual culture has been haunted for decades by a perennial state of imminence. Already foreseen by McLuhan in the dawn of the media theory – we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us – a new form of millennialism was born. Even though Cronenberg’s cult film has fallen into obsolescence, the materiality of the screen still preserves an aura that goes beyond its technical limits. Fabio Mauri’s serial project Schermi (started in 1957) was among the first artworks, if not the first, to deal with the screen in terms of postmodernism. His monochrome canvases simulate empty filmic displays: mental screens floating in the Zone between the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic. And it’s in that limbo that STROKES resides.

Tiane Doan na Champassak’s new book can be easily aligned within a constellation of experiments that transcend the boundaries of the photographic language. He challenges our propensity for tactility by staging between the two velvet covers the pleasure of stroking the pixels of an image. The trace of his fingerprints over the touchscreen, meticulously recorded, carves out a fluid pattern that flows through the pages like an archetypal imprinting. A soft erotic odyssey is grafted from the digital skin, exalting a sort of voyeuristic curiosity which stays, in different degrees, not only at the foundation of the photographic medium, but also of the fruition of the visual arts at large.

Mythical allusions insinuate themselves within this myriad of paper screens. When Athena instigated Perseus to slay Medusa, she warned him never to look at its hideous face, but only at its image reflected in the polished shield she had given him. The images summed up in STROKES share quite an affinity with the reflection on Perseus’s weapon. Hiding the face of his medusas, Champassak creates a realm of pictorial simulations. Mirroring pages alternate one after another like postmodern shields. After a total Expressionist eclipse – in which the photographic surface appears completely obstructed by thick brushstrokes à la Pierre Soulages – feminine nudes come shyly out of the maze. They are fantastic fulgurances, shifting through the book like rapid eye movements: transparent silhouettes messily rubbed, bodies frantically smeared, corporeal allusions buried under multiple layers of imprints. They all appear to us firstly as a vision and after as a visual sign. Fingerprints and trails fix them on the surface.

STROKES runs unmistakably against the main current of the present photographic practice assuming, by contrast, an almost pictorial appeal: ethereal images appear and disappear within a counter-narrative sequence that goes from abstraction to figuration. The veil of illusion persists. Within its incessant space of time, the narrative remains suspended in the nocturnal anonymity of its origin.

text by Larisa Oancea