22 June 2011

NOTES ON THE INDEX_Rosalind Krauss

Much of Krauss's language is drawn from other scholarship, especially the fields of psychology, semiology and aesthetics. 'Signifier' and 'signified,' 'imaginary' and 'symbolic,' 'mirror stage,' 'syntax,' 'tautology' and other specialized vocabulary is used throughout. Was this level of diction accessible to you? How did you understand and shorthand her conclusions? How would you summarize her definition of the index? In discussion, how do these definitions satisfy or fall short of the ideas?

The particular quality of the index relies on its physical relationship to its referent, in the manner of a trace or an imprint. The empty meaning of the index without its referent (see the discussion of the pronoun as 'shifter') is drawn out, seemingly valued. In the case of Duchamp's Large Glass, "It is a sign which is inherently empty, its signification a function of only this one instance guaranteed by the existential presence of just this object." How does the author guarantee the 'existential presence' of the reference? How trace can the trace element be? Does the meaning of the index fade over time, as the reference becomes disassociated from the image? Is this where caption or text becomes important?

The primacy of the photograph as index is discussed at length. The process of light on emulsion and the impossibility of encoding and manipulating the image are important. Seen as a transfer of a physical presence, the photograph is a prevalent application of the index in art. Now, digital photography is easily manipulated and encoded. Then, tricks with exposure, effects and development modified the image. How do these processes affect the meaning of the index? Is its power in the honesty of its creation, or the perceived reality of its product? If we disagree with the author's analysis of the photograph, do we undermine her larger idea?

The author looks at the work of Marcel Duchamp and the artists of the 1970s to develop her argument. Duchamp grows out of the Dada movement, concerned with absurdity, inversion, meaninglessness and other avant-garde ideas. In the 1970s, the art world was characterized by pluralism, or 'willful eclecticism.' Maybe in both cases (certainly in Duchamp's) the artist is a subversive, eschewing societal norms, seeking new ways of communicating. The index is helpful because it rejects the meaning of traditional forms and symbols. It communicates meaning in a new way, direct and from unfiltered sources. In this, is the index subversive? Why is its meaning preferable to that of more usual pictorial representations? Why is the use of the index located here in two periods of cultural upheaval? What are the connections between the index, meaning, culture and history, if any?

The photograph as index conveys 'spatial immediacy and temporal anteriority.' 'Its reality is that of a having-been-there.' 'This took place in this way.' Is the index nostalgic? How does the index as evidence and implied past tense affect its meaning? Is this a detriment in some ways?

The index is a result of 'cropping, reduction, and self-evident flattening.' 'It is the result of selection and isolation.' How does the fragmentary nature of the index shape its use? In selection, is there an act of 'encoding' and 'schematizing' contrary to the author's depiction?

Krauss describes the necessity of including text, caption, or verbal discourse in the application of the index. In the case of the artists at PS1, these textual captions are missing, but compositions involving successive images are provided as surrogates. How else might explanatory text be included or replaced? Is it essential? If so, for what purpose?

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