Victor Burgin

Shadows, Time and Family Pictures


From a world in which images were once limited in number, circumscribed in meaning and contemplated at length, we have today arrived at a society inundated with images consumed "on the fly" - from glossy magazines, from photomats, video rental stores, broadcast and cable TV, communication satellites and increasingly realistic computer simulations. Flipping and "zapping" through avalanches of books and journals, TV channels and CD-ROM, we are in turn bombarded by pictures of past and present suffering, images of destruction, of bodies quite literally in pieces. We are ourselves "torn" in the process, not only emotionally and morally but in the fragmentary structure of the act of looking itself. In an image saturated environment which increasingly resembles the interior space of subjective fantasy turned inside out, the very subject-object distinction begins to break down, and the subject comes apart in the space of its own making. Such fragmentation, decentering and loss of subject-object boundaries, is characteristic of paranoia. Digital imaging technology however offers itself as therapy for the very anxieties it helps to produce.

Burgin's discussion of these issues is centered around both a painting which hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland at Edinburgh, The Origin of Painting (1745) by David Allan, and on the cover image of a special issue of Time magazine, published in 1993, which shows a young woman who has been "selected as a symbol of the future, multiethnic face of America". The "woman" has no physical existence, her image has been synthesized by computer.

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