FREEZE! Images are still. Sometimes they have the power to pause us, to make us still. Fixed to our place, we are reduced to the act of looking, we become petrified. One could say that in this moment we become an image. The story of fear, freezing, and petrification is a fertile visual motif is associated with the mythical Medusa, the beautiful, or very ugly monster decapitated by Perseus. This story puts together the gaze, decapitation, frontality, averting of the gaze, invisibility. It is also a motif of production of images as a result of intense fear. Medusa’s gaze maintains its power to petrify even after her death. Her face is persistently depicted as frontal, and frontality is a mode a direct address of the viewer. A daring address, she dares us to look and freeze, or we have to avert our gaze, avoid hers, and stay alive. It is a story of the gaze of images and of our emotional entanglement with them, of the deadly spell of looking. It is also a story of carrying the head around as a weapon that simultaneously kills and makes images. Sounds familiar? This is a story of something that belongs to photography – the image produced in the interiority of an apparatus whose blank gaze freezes living things into still images. Medusa’s head, or the gorgoneion appears on armour, architecture, jewellery, clothing, pottery. This motif and its transformation into an object that can be worn, marks simultaneously our desire for protection, and acknowledges our fear. It is also a motif of iconopoiesis, a special moment of instantaneous creation of images that does need a hand to shape, mould or form. The two contemporary protagonists that will be discussed in the talk are the photographic act, and our desire to wear objects on the body, which among other things, is still our archaic desire for protection.
ALENA ALEXANDROVA (Amsterdam) is a cultural theorist and an independent curator based in Amsterdam. She lectures at the Fine Arts and Photography departments, Gerrit Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam. She holds a PhD from the University of Amsterdam. Currently she is writing a book Anarchic Infrastructures: Re-Casting the Archive, Displacing Chronologies. She is the author of Breaking Resemblance. The Role of Religious Motifs in Contemporary Art. (Fordham University Press, 2017) and has published internationally in the fields of aesthetics, performance and visual studies, and regularly contributes to art publications and catalogues. She has curated exhibitions around the conceptual figure of anarcheology. Previously she taught at the Master of Fine Arts, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, Norway and the Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem. She was a visiting researcher at the Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University, Atelier Holsboer, Cité des Arts, Paris, and a guest lecturer at the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg.