Memory and Paint: Jorge Tacla’s Meta-Images

Thus the content of a repressed image or idea can make its way into consciousness, on condition that it is negated. Negation is a way of taking cognizance of what is repressed; indeed it is already a lifting of the repression, though not, of course, an acceptance of what it is repressed.

Sigmund Freud, “Negation,” 1925.


It would seem, then, that it is through their “immensity” that these two kinds of space—the space of intimacy and world space—blend. When human solitude deepens, then the two immensities touch and become identical.

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, 1958.



“All processes have been inverted; they are in the negative,” writes Jorge Tacla, describing his astonishing new series of paintings, A Hemispheric Problem. They are a new reading of the sublime, a new ecstasy of the sublime. But the sublime is Nothing, Absence apotheosized as vast empty space, loss mystified as Infinity found. The sublime is eschatology idealized, the abyss turned into art, as though to soften its horrific presence, deceive us into believing that our minds will not dissolve into it, comfort us with the illusion that we can find a foothold in it, from which to take its measure, gain perspective on it, perhaps hold it captive in the spatial net of a grid, bringing it under complete control. But the sublime abolishes perspective, shrugs it off the way we might dismiss a fly. The sublime is the ultimate indifferent space, beyond the grasp of consciousness. The sublime makes clear just how futile and absurd its perpetual imposing of limits is. Confronted with the sublime, these limits self-destruct, in an act of spontaneous suicide that is a kind of homage a form of recognition. Confronted with the inevitability of the sublime, consciousness admits its impotence, its lack of control.


Yet all is not empty in emptiness; there is a residue. In the sublime there is the residue of history, a thoroughly unsublime substance. Feelings about personal and collective history are mixed in an unholy mess of memory, a density simultaneously clear dream and an obscure representation of actual events, pinpointable on a map, if an outdated one. Within Time and Space in Negative are Notes and References—to allude to two of Tacla’s uncanny images—or memory traces, as they are best called, traces which in fact are the fundament of mind. In Tacla’s case they tend to be landscape elements, symbols of private recollection of public space, tranquil intuitions of the involuntary space in which one emotionally lives one’s history—the paradoxical space of the self’s grandeur and vulnerability. Tacla pictures self-contained scenes of nature, positively charged—vivid and intimate—within the grand desert-ed void of the sublime, a landscape of negativity. Sometimes this microcosmic inscape, to use Gerard Manley Hopkins’s term, seems to coincide, literally as well as figuratively, with the scooped out macroscopic space of the sublime, as in A Classic Problem with Two Unknowns and The Eternal Return. When this occurs—when positive and negative spaces coincide without cancelling each other out, when the relative visibility of a landscape seems to precipitate out of the absolutely invisible, developed by the elusive alchemy of consciousness, when memory and reality become one miraculous space—then the whole picture resonates with ironic authenticity. Something repressed has clearly returned—but incompletely, for a vast, inarticulate, unbounded negative space remains, an unfathomable substratum ultimately beyond comprehension, the Nothing that is the source of Being.


Moreover, the landscape that returns to perception, that seems an epiphanic release of vision, continues to be repressed, for it is a symbol—the signifier of an indeterminate feeling. That feeling is doubly repressed, for it is not an observed landscape remembered, however obscurely, through the symbol, but landscape made memorable by art, indeed historicized by art. Tacla’s landscapes tend to be quoted from high art imagery. They belong to the past, they were pictures before Tacla thought of putting them in his pictures: they are found landscapes, making them all the more melancholy. Was any of his landscapes ever a lived experience? The negative space of the sublime seems to have been lived by him, for it is the space of the desert—“the place where vision is perpetually out of focus,” as has been said. The desert is always internal to us; it is a metaphor for the way reality exists in the unconscious. (Tacla’s landscapes sound an oblique ecological note; they can be understood as homage’s to disappearing nature. Indeed, the unexpected ecological prestige of Old Master landscapes—the new, wistful look they are entitled to—may be the only happy consequence of the modern destruction of nature.)


Tacla’s “mystical” fixation on desert-ed landscape suggests that it is a memory of his homeland—the contradictory terrain of the homeland. The homeland exists only as a negative for the exile, that is, in the alienated form of the not-quite-knowable, the not-quite-in-focus—certainly not focused and knowable the way it once was. In a sense, Tacla´s pictures tackle a personal epistemological problem: they suggest his wonder at how he knows that he knows the land that can no longer be called exactly and simply home. Is he comparing the old and new psychic textures of the knowing of home? Is he struggling to articulate the eternal archetype of home as the ordinary reality of home fades into the oblivion? Is he working through what is no longer matter-of-fact? Indeed, his pictures seem to be about the elusiveness, even absence, of fact: fact as inherently fiction, so ingeniously subjective is it, so much is it a matter of our relationship to it, unavoidably wishful even at its most intellectually clear. Tacla handles his nostalgia well—with esthetic aplomb, yet without losing its urgency, that is, the drive to self-discovery implicit in it.


In his solitude, he has blended two memories of his homeland: its existence as an emotionally charged intimate space and as an indifferent immense space, to create an exile’s image of the homeland. It is a land that looms larger in memory than it can ever be in reality, the way an adult’s memory of his childhood world makes it seem more significant than it can ever be to anyone else. Indeed, Tacla has given us the illusory space of the exiled self, a narcissistic space, whether one is intimately invested in it or views it as an abstract, distant immensity. It is simultaneously too close and too far, as though one can never find the proper distance from which to comprehend it—perhaps as though no proper relation to it is possible. It is the all-or-nothing space of the self which imagines itself at its center: Tacla’ space is simultaneously intimate, because the self remains profoundly attached to it, and an anonymous immensity, in recognition of the self’s detachment from it in exile, perhaps even growing indifference to it. At the same time, to present this space as uninhabited, while acknowledging its independent reality, suggests continuing attachment to it—enough to keep everyone else out of it, keep it “pure,” a desert-ed “paradise.” (It is worth noting that erotic attachment is a strong subliminal issue of Tacla’s images, as his use of female figure as the Pretext for a Landscape suggests. It is eros that is repressed in sublime negativity—the sublimity that makes a virtue out of the negative, that is, that turns deprivation and loss into the big lie of otherworldliness—and eros that brings the forgotten details of the landscape of memory back to pictorial mind, that is, pictures them positively, relishing them, finding them fulfilling. 



Tacla creates a meta-image, as it were—an image that is about how images come into being and fade out of being, how images appear and disappear and finally come to exist as disappearance, that is, memories at an infinite emotional remove from reality, without denying it. It is significant that paint is his preferred mode of presenting the meta-image, for paint is the ideal medium of memory: it is as fluid—“flighty”—as memory, that is, a libidinous manifestation of time. Tacla’s meta-images are comprehensible in terms of the negative dialectic—the unresolved tension—between timeliness and timelessness. The sense of transience—the inbetween state—subsumes them both. Transience, incorporating a sense of timeliness and of timelessness, is that state of the process that Cézanne made into a performance, indeed, turned into an end in itself, and rendered opaque—reified—even as he demonstrated how transparent reality became under its spell. Tacla’s meta-images articulate transience as the tension between sublime void and beautiful memory—between the emptiness of eternity and the fullness of the psyche, the latter always tending to dissolve into the former.


Wonderfully articulate about the uncanny mix of inarticulateness and hyperarticulateness in his meta-images, Tacla writes:


The canvas has been prepared where it is not painted. The objects and landscapes are transparent and are the negative of their physical conditions. Only a photographic process can both give and make these places recognizable.


…It is not a landscape. It is not the depiction of one place, it is a place of painting. It is in this place where my work is joined, citing the history of art, the history of social struggles, and mental structure.


The meta-image is inherently self-contradictory, “a dyslexic process of similitude,” as Tacla says. That is, a process whereby such dissimilarities as timeliness and timelessess, spontaneous remembering and complete forgetfulness of experience, are perversely reconciled.


At the same time, Tacla’s meta-image implies the inherent dysfunctionality of communication and secondarily meaning: a sense that the one is never efficient and the other is never stable. More crucially, meaning exists incommunicado in the meta-image, to be intuited at the perceiver’s risk. This is why Tacla’s paintings seem “disrupted” and “disturbing,” as he says. Photographic propriety will never occur in them, certainly never with any finality. In painting in general the image is never securely itself and unconditionally meaningful. There is a tendency towards the meta-image, that is, the unself-identical appearance. Tacla’s paintings accomplish the archaeological feat that the best painting has always aimed at: Tacla treats his ostensible subject matter as the site of a dead civilization, an age-old burial ground, and excavates it down to its sensual depths, reducing it to the fiction of a memory. The best art does not eternalize presence, as has been suggested, but converts it into memorable absence. Especially is modern art expert at this task of recovering the sense of the subject from arrogant objectivity.


In a sense, Tacla disembodies his scenes to re-embody them as myths. Thus, the vaguely figural element in A Hemispheric Problem is a sphinx. Through Tacla’s technique of negation, dissolving its solidity, it becomes freshly mythical, that is, archaic. The archaic can only exist as a kind of afterimage of reality, that is, as an illusion, half believable, half unbelievable. Indeed, Tacla challenges us to stretch of the credible, and in so doing challenges our creativity.


He has said that the sense of humid atmosphere in many of the images, for example, Spatial References, The Future and the Matter, and Autumn, derives from an idea of Leonardo da Vinci, who “invented” the atmosphere of his images from the effect of humidity on his canvases.


Moisture precipitating out of the humid atmosphere left the accident of its gesture—the material trace of its immaterial presence—on the canvas, catalyzing vision. Leonardo painted literally—if also ironically—“after nature,” more particularly, after a memory trace that was the residue of a “living” process of nature. This is an aspect of his advocacy of hallucination as a method of art-making. In André Breton’s words in “Artistic Genesis and Perspective of Surrealism” (1941), Leonardo advised the artist to allow his “attention to become absorbed in the contemplation of streaks of dried spittle or the surface of an old wall until the eye is able to distinguish an alternative world which painting is equally capable of revealing.” It is this alternative world—this world of the shadow available through the hallucination—that Tacla presents with a new subtlety. It is the world of genesis itself—the world of raw emergence. In a sense, it is an articulation of the idea of world rather than any specific world, although, there being no creation ex nihilo, memory traces of past worlds float in its transparency, its seeming nothingness, like dangerous, icebergs in an ocean—like sirensongs leading us to crash on the rocks of some past life, past reality. It is as though they are the dregs of a previous reincarnation—which is exactly the way the exile feels about his previous existence in his homeland.


Tacla’s paintings, then, are hallucinations, full of accidents and blind visual alleys, skeletal remains of a past consciousness and deadends of thought, trails that lead back in time to “nowhere,” to a false, ironic utopia. There is nothing stable in this pictures, not even the broken lines of linkage schematically tracing what was once there, eternally tentative yet peculiarly timely lines holding together what is now voided if hallucinatorily available. There is a strange dead light in these works, the silent glow of decay, the aura of the ruin and relic. But also is regeneration of essence, the only youth left to the world of the past, the final form of memories that will survive. Tacla has given us a true deconstruction of landscape, that is, he has shown that it is always an immaterial landscape of the mind, the alternative world that is always beyond the material one, and that in the end is less describable than it, especially because it is the obscure world of desire for what is out of reach, what has become intangible.


Donald Kuspit. 1991