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The Paintings of Teresita Dennis by Jonathan Miles

  • The Paintings of Teresita Dennis: The Excess of the Future

    By Jonathan Miles


    “In seeking God’s eye, I found only a socket,

    Vast, black, and bottomless, from which an inhabitant night

    Spreads over the world ever-thickening beams;”


    Nerval Le Christ aux Oliviers





    Series - Infans

    Painting 1




    I was waiting for something. Sometimes it feels as if eyes have been emptied and become forms of recess. I am not sure how I might write. I had been thinking about  a Black Panther that visited me in my dreams because it had both perplexed and penetrated me. Maybe it had noticed my eyes and leapt through the space afforded by my look. I have no means of translating this visitation so instead I just have to allow for the fact that it juts into me. No doubt this scene will give way to another but not yet. I might imagine that the point at which this scene becomes coherent then it might simply slip away into the darkness from which it emerged. Why I am presuming that this creature came out of darkness? It is so easy to be torn apart from such enigmas. Instead of thinking about the duality of light and darkness as the potential origin of the image I have instead the idea that the Panther came to me from the future and as such stands for the very secret of what can never be present.


    I must confess that I anticipate a process of translation, after all, the symbolic structure promises completion through naming. I close my eyes but nothing occurs,

    Yet there is always something that lies there as if waiting to pounce. In the case of a painter, it is the yet to come of painting which can also be understood as the perpetual otherness of the painter, or that which lies in waiting like a form of truth that lies beyond grasp. The subject is required to go outside of itself, in order to posit itself outside of what it grasps. The artist speaks from the very place where secured identity disappears. There is no return, only a place outside and it is the appropriation of the outside (or the other) that opens out the infinity of relation. In simple terms this is the point of entry or access to the realm of dissolution. Without the dissolution of determinate ends there would be no passage to the invention of the new. In order to be properly art, painting is required to touch upon this force of dissolution. Thus a painting yet to come functions on the horizon of the ideal in which the 'as if' that is born out of the actuality creates the basis of a retreat of presence. It is this retreat that becomes manifest in the surface of this work that enables the virtual or generative becoming to emerge. This emergence is a passage that opens out a gap between temporality and presence.  Such a gap can be designated as a zone related to non-knowledge and a way that might be developed. Understanding this idea of non-knowledge is this : that it is a secret outside presence and as such is unmarked.


    I remember going to talks by artists who seemed to evoke the idea that they were in search of a voice, or more pointedly, their voice. I think I wondered how voices might be discovered within blobs of stuff. Perhaps to claim a voice was a means of claiming a status of being a thoughtful artist. In contradistinction Julia Kristeva (1) linked artistic creation with "infantile babblings" which implies the idea of sounds not yet able to articulate meanings and therefore not yet able to be named as voice. When works are denounced as being immature or childlike, it touches this sense but for the wrong reason, for it accords the adult voice with the authority born out of being in the world and secured by this bond. If "infantile babbling,” points toward a pre-cognitive or pre-symbolic order (semiotic), it might also be linked to the possibility of the link of regressive pre-symbolic space with the yet to come.

     A curious traversal of sense indeed!


    Rather than the anticipation of what artists might be saying the focus might be instead on what the artwork does or what it affects. (2)


     "...I have no desire for meaning - what I want is the sense or intensity of something to come - and remaining with that space, as a condition for the work." (3)


     To represent is to produce literal signification as an act of placing before in order to fix it into relation. The world can thus be understood as a system of meanings but as a consequence other dimensions of being suffer from fading or closure. Here, the aesthetic dimension is based, in part, by a desire to counteract this fading of being through the attention to vivid immediacy and in this tends to manifest through an eruptive economy of affects. This in part explains why Hegel claimed art is 'Schein' and not 'Vorstellung'. Beauty (4) is manifestation of a "shining forth" from within a sensuous medium as opposed to a harmony of concept and nature. The idea of shining forth can also be linked to the feeling of bursting without foundation.


    In the novel "Story of the Eye" (1928) Georges Bataille creates a story in which a poetic chain of metaphors are stretched out to the point at which there is no beginning and end but instead an organization within a spherical structure is assumed. In turn everything appears to be on the surface without either depth or hierarchy. In Chapter Eight, “The Open Eyes of the Dead Woman” Bataille writes: “I stretched out in the grass, my skull on a large, flat rock and my eyes staring straight up at the Milky Way, that strange breach of astral sperm and heavenly urine across the cranial vault formed by the ring of constellations; that open crack at the summit of the sky, apparently made of ammoniacal vapours shining in the immensity (in empty space, where they burst forth absurdly like a rooster’s crow in total silence), a broken egg, a broken eye, or my own dazzled skull weighing down the rock, bouncing symmetrical images back to infinity.” (5) In this prose we experience the mixing of “disruptive low matter” with high or transcendent matter in a manner that creates vertigo within the stable system of referents. Although there is no obvious connection between this work of fiction and these painting we are attending to, they can be seen as paintings that without depth or hierarchy induce "vertigo within the stable system of referents" and as such are formed by a leaning towards transgression.


    In the late paintings of Titian there is invariably the sensation of pulsation that discharges itself across the surface of the canvas. Suffering from arthritis, instead of always using bushes he would smear paint with his hands and fingers. The marks become a meeting point or fusion between the sensual pleasure invested in the medium of paint and sensations of pain within the joints of hand and fingers. Titian was distributing his body across the surface as much as producing an image and in turn the spectator is mobilised by the sensations of these passages articulated in space. Perhaps the image is also given over to a nervous system. These painting are invariably dark in tone or mood and yet they are also illuminated by these strange flickers or splinters of light that are otherwise to this prevailing gravity of the images in question. If the darkness leads to the feeling or anticipation of the tomb, there is also a memory of another type of dark light which resurrects the memory of the womb.  The point of connection is not the literal relationship to the haptic or even the shift of spaces or play of light but rather in the way painting might be understood as a circulation through which dualism can be dissolved. Somehow density and dissolution become co-extensive.


    If a painter sets about depicting the world as it might appear then there might first be a passage through the screen or wall of the habitual which organizes the sense of what a depiction might be. Common sense readily informs us that space, matter, time, subjects and objects are organized as different entities that lend themselves to a world, which can be viewed as such and turned into a comprehensive picture. Abstraction is not so much a condition of condensation drawn from this, but the surprise that perception could be organized in such a manner. In the case of Teresita Dennis's work surprise is not only the opening of intensity but also the disavowal of any ordinary perception of temporality. Painting not only opens out a relationship to temporal flux but also redistributes how such a flux might occur.  Before and after might be conflated or temporalities splintered or scattered into altogether new circulations in order to present passages of visibilities. Rather than common sense we are given over to a delirium of sense.


    Series: Inscription

    Painting 7


    Part of the absorption of the process of absorption of these works relates to the different durations embodied. It is not just the fact that we might have both a sensation of slowness and speed within one painting it is the perception that what might be very slow can flip over into fast or vice versa. Perhaps there is also something encoded into this switching of velocities related to the co-relation of drives and desire.  This relation of drive and desire might also be connected to different inner experiences within the painting process; the harnessing of impulses, excitement, intensification, frustration, curiosity, demand, limit, mediation, scanning, decision. The staging of inner experience and the exteriority of the act of painting are made visible through the inscription process and encoded within this is the reality and perception of durational intensification. The inscription process which creates the signifying chain of labour - value - commodity is of a different order within the art work because inscription process are both visible with the materiality of the work but also are valorised into an invisible connection which is formed with gesture. It is gesture that moves the work into a vantage point outside of itself and arrests the habitual temporality that the commodity is subject to. The commodity is placed with circulation whereas the artwork stages circulation itself.

    The attempt to rearticulate the meaning of autonomy of the artwork is most usefully articulated within this dynamic. Rather than autonomy being related to the dimension of will, it is on the contrary related to the exposure to dissolution of powers assumed. Autonomy is thus secured by the utmost degree of fragility or the point at which the artwork becomes the curious kind of thing, a subject-object. 

    The terrain of autonomy also implies that experience can be enabled by non-experience. (6) This in turn is the basis of the disavowal of the work of art embodying or being composed of a pure relationship to subjectivity.


    Think of the blank of the canvas; then the idea of a life lived, an impulse, a script, a possibility, the void, in-determination, suspension and impossibility but not in any given order. To think of such things is not only the risk of disorder but also an alignment or incline towards the sublime. Yet the incline of these works is not so much towards the condition of the sublime, as much as vivification and with this an openness to the outside or the future.  This is the reason why these paintings both appear to mobilise themselves as fields of force yet retain a sense of fragility. Formalists would often evoke the sensation of the push and pull within the perceptual field of the painting but there is quite another push and pull deep within the skin of these works, namely between force and fragility. This can be felt but cannot be seen. This is not simply the oscillation of the tactile and the visible but is the result of the interplay of inscription, gesture and memory. Within a different conceptual schema, it is the dynamic of offering and withdrawal.


    Am I simply too close up to know what I see; pressed too far into the intensities of chromatic shifts, the organization of forms? Rather than properly gather appearances into an image, I am induced instead (as if by chemical) into realms of otherness, alternatively trapped within the convoluted syntax of late modernist painting or lured by visibilities estranged by habitual configuration or emergence. Pressed into, lured by, trapped before, induced, mobilized and turned over, squeezed and dispersed, seduced even, dazzled, all in the service of suspending a point of view and with it, all claims of its authority. Instead of being aligned with the act of painting as a principle of performance enmeshed within material, we are rather invited into a suspension of the difference between the two orders that in turn implies painting as an eruptive mobility. So here I am being pressed into changing my direction, with thought no longer directing me to pay attention to material, but rather confronting the sense of undoing an understanding of directional encounter that in turn implies linear syntax. Thus we are given over to a volume of sense articulated, not by the dialectic of inside and outside, but instead by pulsations that are active before such processes of differentiation occur. What I cannot see though, is the way in which my stance is being pulverised in this process and this then implies a journey of risk


    Visual images (or sign economies) contain seeds of understanding because they gesture beyond themselves, to that which is other, and in so doing take us outside of a sense of smooth historical narrative.  This in turn implies a process of touching upon a limit invested in continuity because a gesture that takes us to the outside not only touches upon limit it also necessarily contains a force or even violence. On the surface these paintings do not necessarily evoke discontinuity let alone violence and yet there is a latency whose root is in violence. I would link this latency to the process of pulverisation, which the painting process is predicated upon, thus constituting a madness of vision as opposed to a clarity assumed within Platonic metaphysics. 


    For a couple of weeks a reading group was attempting to find a passage through Maurice Blanchot's 'Two Versions of the Imaginary.' (7)  It appeared that as soon as a process of deciphering meaning was being attempted then a wall of incomprehension appeared to frustrate such a possibility. Suddenly a thought occurred that it was the design of the essay or part of what it did. Encoded within the text was a hidden subject, namely the nature of schematicism (8), but,  rather than making an intellectual account of this it instead provided the sensation of schematicism in the process of its occurrence.  Rather than theorising the difference of representation and presentation, Blanchot presents the difference by frustrating the power of representational thinking. In effect it is necessary to pass through the very grid of such a process of thinking in order to grasp quite another space in which indexical translation is no longer an adequate tool for understanding. This in turn implies a temporal shift within the reception process that enables language to function as a field of encounter without deferral. Although a text might not be appropriate as a means of discussing such painting this process of understanding such shifts are absolutely at the heart of trying to grasp what is at stake. These paintings do not represent the process of the imaginary but rather they present a way of capturing the actual lure of the imaginary.


    Antonin Artuad introduced the word "subjectile" (9) as a way of thinking about the idea of the human subject beyond any sense of bounded structure. On a simple level it might be the meeting point of the subject with a projectile that implies an impossible blending or mutation of something that has feet on the ground opening out a perspective on the world with something moving through space at speed embodying blurred vision. This implies an annihilation not only of a fixed standpoint but a world conceived as a representational grid through which the will to power might penetrate. Rather than a postulation that would secure an object in place that defines a vantage point of appropriation. There is instead an implication of being out of place, thrown. In effect implying an entity ahead of itself but ahead in ways that secures nothing. On the most abstract level being is a becoming. Rather than assembling a critique of the idea of a subject able to objectify the world through the process of representation, Artuad cuts through the complex procedure of philosophical critique with a gesture of poetic condensation that invites an all at once grasp that we shift the notion of the subject as an entity to an action or ecstatic encounter. In the case of Artuad's drawings, rather than a depiction of something like a face, the subjectile was recorded in the form of burns, holes, stains and ruptures that break into the mute surface of the paper articulating in turn the fragility of becoming (being out of control). The subjectile is then not only an a-signifying force but is also counter-rhythmical one. What is opened is the possibility of altering orientation in space and time, which connects in quite another way with the notion of gesture, one which Artuad linked to the restoration of true theatre in which all the senses interpenetrate.


    Although the example of Artuad seems to be utterly unlikely in the case of my exposition of the works in question it touches upon the central question of how to articulate a relationship to abstraction outside of the domain of modernist formalism, a construct largely built on a reading of Kant on the question of form and subjectivity. Formalism respected the codes of the subjective turn within philosophy and with this accord could lay claim to scopic grace. Within the context of painting, this might appear to issue a mode of immobilization based on the reality of this invisible philosophical armature. On the surface the impulse of Formalism appeared to break with the idea of either system or model but unconsciously its tendency toward a condition of entropy reflected that something of this order was in place. Reference was effectively shifted from subject matter to material. This shift was expresses by Pollock's notion that he did not paint nature, but he was instead nature itself, a shift that also recorded a shift from the passivity implied within facing the world to being in and of the world. Yet this shift placed enormous weight on the very subject that might be liberated by such paradigmatic re-articulation for it implied that the aesthetic act might define what the artist properly is - as opposed to the idea that there is no instance when the definition of properly being in place, functions. The task falling to a generation who absorbed not only the death of the author and the de-centring of the subject was to thinking abstract either twice over or as a fold. On the one side this process might involve eating up or chewing through inherited syntaxes alongside a process of recomposing thought, perhaps a case of disjunctive combination of violence and delicacy. What becomes central in this disjunctive movement of action and thinking is the elusive question of desire because it is desire that undoes the binaries of either internal-external or inside-outside. Desire secures the mobility across all surfaces and within all depths but always connected to the economies of the body and with it the opening out of intensities. If desire is always on the move and therefore cannot be stopped then it functions as a force that cannot be represented from any given position. It is a-perspectival and has no surface that it can claim as its own so is like an abstract machine, or even the motor constantly producing new abstractions that lay out of sight. 


    Instead of immediately opening out a relationship to other painters to clarify issues of abstract it might be more proximate to reference a section of Jean-Francois Lyotard's book 'Libidinal Economy' called 'The Great Ephemeral Skin'. First published in 1974 it is an experiment in writing that attempted to re-organize the codes of writing philosophically in ways that would disturb the boundary between extreme literature, politics and philosophy. "And adjoining the skin of the fingertips, scraped by the nails, perhaps there should be huge silken beaches of skin, taken from inside of the thighs, the base of the neck, or from the strings of a guitar. And against the palm, all latticed with nerves, and creased like a yellow leaf, set potter's clays, or even hard wooden handles encrusted with jewels, or a steering wheel, or a drifter's sail are perhaps required." (10) Although the subject matter is distinct in terms of actual references to things and processes the writing itself emerges out of a construction of an abstract machine that link contingent orders of reality that require imaginative leaps. We are thus given over to the act of constant heterogeneous figuring. In simple terms all of this points to the difference of depicting a world and organising a set of process through which the syntax that stabilizes such accounts is scrambled.


    In 'Time for Revolution' Antonio Negri discusses the various paradigms for the construction of an image of time: " the tradition of classical philosophy... time is the mobile image of the immobility of being. In this tradition, time is thus an extrinsic modality: it presents itself as illusion or as a measure never as event, never as a 'this here'." (11) Within this conception kairos is defined as the instant or moment of rupture that opens out temporality: "kairos means generation, that is being (einai) in the form of generation (gigneta)." As such it functions as the "opening of the to-come" and in this "presence is expression."  Negri links the power of kairos (the to-come) to imagination. The expression of this power "consists in the recognizing of itself - on the precipice of time - as creator of new being." This "production of being on the edge of time" opens out a way of re-viewing the correlation between desire and aesthetic rapture within these works. It is abstraction as the mobility of sense.


    Series: Gesture/Act

    Painting 3


    Art is potentially what rescues the time of the future from a levelling repetition. Repetition is allied to continuity and habit whereas art signals discontinuity or difference. In order for art to touch upon a future yet to come it is required to be true to the present.  Does this imply that art is postulated as the in-between of a knowable present and an unknowable future (surprise)?  In his book ‘The Writing of the Disaster” Blanchot states that fragmentary writing “is risk, it would seem: or risk itself. It is not based on any theory, nor does it introduce a practice one could define as interruption. Interrupted, it goes on. Interrogating itself, it does not co-opt the question but suspends it (without maintaining it) as nonresponsive . Thus, if it claims that its time is never sure, but is the absence of time, absence not in a nonnegative sense, time anterior to all past-present, as well as posterior to every possibility of a present yet to come.” (12)


    The art of painting increasingly comes face to face with the reality of the screen which itself functions as an "antiworld in the world," according to Jean-Luc Marion. (13) The image is its own reality and the mediation of this is through the screen. Thus the image becomes identical to its support. In Teresita Dennis's work, painting draws both from the syntaxical continuity of painting but also from the discontinuities or shock of everyday visual experience. This is not so much the look of work that might be drawn from virtual images but from shifting modes of how visual fields themselves start to surface. In effect this shifts the concern from the encounter with images (technological or imaginative) to the concern with how an image arises in the first place. Jean-Luc Nancy states that: "the schema is the originary figure of figuration itself." (14) This implies a process of form forming itself, that which "precedes all images". Rather than being about something there is instead a presentation of the pulsation that lies between no-thing and some-thing. This is an art that offers either side of these two conditions in the form of a unity.



    Catherine Malabou (15) develops a notion of plasticity from her reading of Hegel in order to give form to the future "as the excess of the future over the future, as that which is able to give and receive form. " (16) When painting and the question of temporality is evoked it is invariably in the context of notions to do with memory but the turn towards the future embodied within the works starts to re-inscribe the anticipatory structures through which painting might re-animate the relationship of form and temporality.


    What is it to claim that art constructs a resistance to the world or is resistance itself?

    Maybe art is tempered as encounter by a lack of permanence, a shift this way or that at best. Important in one moment, then forgotten in the next passage but keeping alive unpredictable outcomes and mutations of sense (17) as an outcome of introducing different temporal rhythms. 


    I am left trying to remember from which ground the Black Panther appeared in my dream. Was it without ground or have I simply forgotten?  Would the ground be oblivion instead? I am not even certain if such things should trouble me, but here I am caught up in something that should have departed several weeks ago. All I know is that something sticks to me. I saw something and now it sticks to me. It could be that the sensation of sticking stands in for the feeling of not knowing. I am left gaping at the gap left by the Black Panther.


    Jonathan Miles


    Exhibition Details:

    Making Sense: Inscription / Gesture / Act

    21st-29th June 2014

    Teresita Dennis

    Private View, June 19th 2014, 6-9pm

    SLAM Fridays, 27th June 2014, 6-9pm

    Saturday and Sunday

    10am - 5pm, or by appointment



     1. Julia Kristeva  Revolution in Poetic Language Columbia  1984 

    “The kinetic functional stage of the semiotic precedes the establishment of the sign; it is not, therefore, cognitive in the sense of being assumed by a knowing, already constituted subject.” P27

    2. Affects are non-conscious experiences of intensity and properties of encounter. As such they are not accompanied by representations or in turn narratives.

    3. Teresita Dennis  Making Sense

    4. See: Hegel Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics Penguin Books 1993

    "The beauty of art presents itself to sense, to feeling, to perception, to imagination; its sphere is not that of thought... what we enjoy in the beauty of art is precisely the freedom of its productive and plastic energy." P7

    5. Georges Bataille  Story of the Eye Penguin Books 1982 P42

    6. Maurice Blanchot talks of "the experience of non-experience." The difference of lived experience is in this context, brought in relationship to the indifference of form.

    7. Maurice Blanchot The Gaze of Orpheus Station Hill 1981

    8. In the ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ Kant describes the schema as the “art concealed in the depths of the human soul.” The schema provides an image for a concept and this process is called schematicism. A schema is not an image nor is schematicism the imagination even though they are related.

    9. See Jacques Derrida, Paule Thevenin  The Secret Art of Antonin Artuad  MIT 1998

    Derrida states: "Subjectile, the word or the thing, can take the place of the subject or the object - being neither one nor the other." P61

    10. Jean-Francois Lyotard  Libidinal Economy The Athlone Press  1993 P2

    This work is in many ways close to Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus that emerged out of similiar conjunctions of philosophy, psycho-analysis, extreme literature and politics.

    11. Antonio Negri  Time for Revolution Continuum 2004  P140 - P149

    12. Maurice Blanchot  The Writing of the Disaster Nebraska 1995  P59

    13. Jean-Luc Marion The Crossing of the Visible Stanford  2004

    14. Jean-Luc Nancy  A Finite Thinking  Stanford 2003 Essay: 'The Sublime Offering"  P217
    15. Catherine Malabou  Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing  Columbia  2010
    16. Ian James  The New French Philosophy  Polity  2012 P87
    17. In the thinking of Jean-Luc Nancy the idea of a consistent and permanent subjectivity cannot be assumed but instead there is the idea of a self as the arrival, the coming or the event of being. Being is a movement of sense, something that is towards something else. Sense is always inclining or declining towards exposure that in turn implies action. 

    See: Jean-Luc Nancy  The Sense of the World Minnesota 1997

    Jean-Luc Nancy  A Finite Thinking  Stanford  2003