The basic argument of these essays is that the vessel is a dynamic medium, in which we "live and move and have our being," but also a medium that is itself in motion from o n e place or time to another... the essays in this collection examine the way vessel circulates as a medium of exchange, a site/sight of visual appropriation, a focus for the formation of identity.
The text, in its mass, is comparable to a sky, at once
flat and smooth, deep, without edges and without landmarks;
like the soothsayer drawing on it with the tip of his staff an imaginary
wherein to consult, according to certain principles, the flight of birds,
the commentator traces through the text certain zones of reading,
in order to observe therein the migration of meanings,
the outcropping of codes, the passage of citations.
O n e day, quite some time ago, I happened on these 4 ties in a thrift shop, and decided to hang them up near the lights in the hallway. I then came across 3 pins so I thought I would arrange them into some configuration, which took approximately 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The next day my buddy Kevin asked me why I wrote X/Y on the wall, and not having realized it then, and with an amazement I have not been able to lessen, I too have been wondering ever since...
"a photograph is x" or "a photograph reveals y" because of the way it is made or its relationship to its referent, the photograph is also an idea as much as a thing, in which repressed human concerns about making, keeping, and losing re : surface.
I recently found these two images in my father's iPhone. They show my father Right behind the statue of liberty– he Left just before 9/11. It was probably his first business trip to America. He mentioned once the name of the American woman with whom he was staying in Chinatown, pictured here, Elizabeth? Alyssa? Elizabeth probably. Then he never mentioned her again.
Who took these pictures? Who was holding his coat?
1. a ship or large boat. synonyms:boat, ship, craft, watercraft; literary bark/barque... "a fishing vessel" // navigation
2. a hollow container, especially o n e used to hold liquid, such as a bowl or cask. synonyms:container, receptacle; (chiefly in or alluding to biblical use) a person, especially regarded as holding or embodying a particular quality... "giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel" // collection
3. a duct or canal holding or conveying blood or other fluid. (ANATOMY ZOOLOGY) any of the tubular structures in the vascular system of a plant, serving to conduct water and mineral nutrients from the root. (BOTANY) // circulation
The vessel is a device, a place, and a method of expression. It is also a physical-virtual space thus a site of simultaneous production, a ground upon which I will develop some of the following thought.
I propose that image-making, as a process, is essantially a curatorial o n e . To make an image is to curate objects in a particular light (lucienne); to make an exhibition is to take and re: present objects in a particular space. The gestures are interchangeable.
The act of the curator is embodied by / embedded within that of the image-maker, and vice versa– both are visual composers. Like the exhibition-maker, the photographer – a mediator, supplies the transparent soul its clear shadow, revealing its value and not its mere identity; the photographer, the curator, ‘makes permanent the truth.’
Most of my work is conceived site-specifically.
I believe that its impact depends on whether it can activate a critical re: flection for those who engage with it on what is at stake for them when and where they engage with it.
In his personal—subjective—examination of multiple photographs, Lucienne proceeded to note a duality that was characteristic of certain photographs:
a ‘co-presence of two discontinuous elements’
Above all, however, it was the idea of framing as the quintessantial compositional strategy which challenged, in a characteristically paradoxically, the value of pictorial purity.
The frame, empty and infinitely mobile, directed literally and metaphorically towards the world itself, proved an implacable generator of forms.
Lucienne proposed The Vessel, a containership whose frame constantly renewed, in interstitial space [X/Y], the composition of the visible world beyond it.
Lucienne begins by describing the experience of a real seascape. He notes the feelings of solitude and infinity evoked by the ocean; locates these feelings within their temporal embeddedness in a remembered journey to, and an anticipated return form the sea; and states the message of the whole:
The desire for transcendence, for passage over the sea, remains unfulfilled, and Lucienne at once expresses and recuperates his loss through the discovery of life within signs of the absence of life. Only now does he return to the painting of a seascape, Hare’s La Spezia :
That o n e has wandered out there, and o n e must return, that o n e wants to cross over, that o n e cannot, that o n e lacks here all life and yet perceives the voices of life in the rushing tide, in the blowing wind, int he passage of clouds, in the solitary birds.
"Thought is the wind, knowledge the sail, and mankind the vessel."
by Augustus John Cuthbert Hare (British, 1834–1903) "La Spezia, Italy" pencil and watercolor, 23.5 x 43.2 cm. (9.3 x 17 in.)
here is my father exactly two years before the very day I was born. He was not in Italy, though the color of the water does resemble watercolors
- Vessel is not a genre of art but a medium.
- Vessel is a medium of exchange between the human and the natural, the self and the other. As such, it is like money: good for nothing in itself, but expressive of a potentially limitless reserve of value.
- Like money, vessel is a social hieroglyph that conceals the actual basis of its value. It does so by naturalizing its conventions and conventionalizing its nature.
- Vessel is a natural scene mediated by culture. It is both a represented and presented space, both a signifier and signified, both a frame and what a frame contains, both a real place and its simulacrum, both a package and the commodity inside the package.
- Vessel is a medium found in all cultures.
- Vessel is a particular historical formation associated with European imperialism.
- Theses 5 and 6 do not contradict o n e another.
- Vessel is an exhausted medium, no longer viable as a mode of artistic expression. Like life, vessel is boring; we must not say so.
- The vessel referred to in Thesis 8 is the same as that of Thesis 6.
to the previous occupants of the space
THE HARVARD GOLF OFFICE
In addition to asking us to suspend our disbelief regarding the existence and the career of Lucienne , she seems to offer up Lucienne’s work as an object of criticism within an alternative history in which we must also suspend disbelief.
For she insists that it belongs not to her own authorial present, which is also our interpretive and historical present, but rather to its own fictional time and place, its own determinate historical eddy.
“We’re here because I’m making a documentary about Essa Lucienne,” said Essa Li.
“Essa Li is making a documentary about Essa Lucienne. Essa Li and Essa Lucienne are totally different characters.
"The documentary shows Essa Li making a documentary about Essa Lucienne, but it is a fake documentary. It’s a little confusing, but don’t worry about which o n e is real, which o n e is fake.”
Not to be confused with Essa Lucienne, Essa Li is the founder and Director of Vessel Gallery. ( O n e is a China Girl, the other a China girl.) The two work collaboratively to realize their vision for the Vessel. Essa Li explains:
I see those roles as intertwined, even though I have an artistic practice of my own. In my training as a photographer and in my experiences at VES, I was encouraged to think seriously and to look closely at the decisions and choices I made as a photographer in terms of the process, the content, and the object itself, and how each of those decisions would inform the interpretation viewers would have of my work.
From paper and film selection to the presentation, we would talk for hours about our work. In my work as curator, Lucienne has tried to emphasize that we need to be curious about these objects. We need to ask what it is about what we are seeing that leads us toward a certain interpretation or message. There’s a lot of exploring to do. There needs to be more thinking about frameworks that surround photography. There are also new forms that are cutting-edge /// Do we collect selfies? I’m fascinated thinking about these things.
And so, instinctively and without effort, I divided myself, so to speak, into two persons, of whom o n e , the real, the genuine o n e , continued on her own account, while the other, successful imitation of the first, was delegated to have re: lations with the world. My first self remains at a distance, impassive, ironical, and watching.
In o n e of three of EL's notebooks we come across:
Here you see both the camera and the objects.Also, you have the fact that each of the performers is handling the cameras. So you become part of the camera, you identify with the camera that you can physically see.
You also identify with the performer and their body.You can feel the body through the way in which the camera is pressed against it. You have a multiplicity of different viewpoints.
Plus you have two people and two different cameras at the same time.It sets up a relationship whether you’re identifying voyeuristically with yourself, or with a sexualized, heterosexual image outside of yourself. Or maybe putting the two on the same narcissistic optical level that Lacan’s mirror stage begins with.
o n e morning in middle school, it occurred to me something was very strange in the picture frame that sat on a countertop near our dinner table. inside the wooden frame was the their picture seen above. i don't recall my father ever having had such haircut (he had begun to bald rather early in his life) i looked closer, and the closer i looked the stranger it seemed, and i recalled several other such faces around the house, so i went to them to check. to my surprise, they were all equally strange.
later that evening, i confronted my father about these pictures. with the frame in my hand, i asked him, are they real? why of course they are, how can photos not be real, msilly girl. but they don't look real to me! - I reflected - you got them to photoshop you in to these different people! - pause. - they don't have photoshop in china in the eighties. i pondered this, and thought, that's true. and so for many years the reality of this picture sat on the countertop.
Defending herself, Li says she has tried to capture the essance of the book, which is that it is a dream.
"As a famous saying in the book goes, 'when falsehood stands for truth, truth likewise becomes false; when naught be made to aught, aught changes into naught,'" Li says.
"You may find the setting false - what place in the world could look as fantastic? But you tend to believe it may exist somewhere. This ambiguous feel is what I wanted to create."
The basic activity in E. Lucienne, then, is unquestionably that of appropriation.
The image of the ship, so important in his mythology, in no way contradicts this. Quite the contrary: the ship may well be a symbol for departure ( \≃/ ); it is, at a deeper level, the emblem of a containership.
An inclination for ships always means the joy of perfectly transporting/transposing o n e self, of having at hand the greatest possible number of objects, and having at o n e 's disposal an absolutely infinite space.
In this mythology of seafaring-shipbuilding, there is only o n e means to exorcize the possessive nature of the man on a ship; it is to merge the man and the ship into o n e unit. The ship then is no longer a box, a habitat, an object that is owned; it becomes a traveling eye, which comes closer to the infinite; it constantly begets departures, as well as landings.
When the Vessel was originally conceived, at its center there was to be a zero room  : “ o n e completely bare Gallery, which visitors will have to negotiate without explanation.” The plans have changed now, and the zero room has disappeared, but this was the feature that caught my attention when I was asked to write an essay for this catalog. It was an unusual idea for a Thesis Show, since the whole purpose for visiting a Thesis Show is to witness things of beauty or interest. (People do not go to Thesis Shows to look at blank walls, to walk through empty galleries.)
iPhone snapshots of day 1 in [Y]
The space of our primary perception, the space of our dreams and that of our passions hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic: there is a light, ethereal, transparent space, or again a dark, rough, encumbered space; or again a space that can be flowing like sparkling water, or space that is fixed, congealed, like stone or crystal. Yet these analyses, while fundamental for re: flection in our time, primarily concern internal space. I should like to speak now of internal void.
We live in a kind of void, inside of which we could lose individuals and things. We live inside a set of relations where delineated are reducible to o n e another and absolutely superimposable on o n e another.
Of course o n e might attempt to describe these different sites by looking for the set of relations by which this given \≃/site can be defined. I am interested in certain ones that have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, and in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invent the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or re: flect. These sites, internal voids, as it were, which are hyperlinked with all the others, which however contradict all the other sites, are of two main types: utopias, and heterotopias.
Utopias: sites with no real place. They are sites that have a general relation of direct or inverted analogy with the space of reality. They present reality itself in an inverted form, in any case these utopias are fundamentally unreal spaces [X]
Heterotopias: real sites—places that do exist and that are formed in the very day to day— a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites are simultaneously represented, documented, and contested. It may be possible to indicate their location in reality [Y]
I believe that between utopias and heterotopias, there might be a sort of mixed, joint experience, which would be the mirror [Z]. The mirror is, after all both, since it is a placeless place. I see myself there where I am not, in an unreal, virtual space that opens up behind the surface; I am over there, there where I am not, a sort of shadow that gives my own visibility to myself, that enables me to see myself there where I am absent: such is the duality of the mirror. From the standpoint of the mirror I discover my absence from the place where I am since I see myself over there. Starting from this gaze that is, as it were, directed toward me, from the ground of this virtual space that is on the other side of the glass, I come back toward myself; I begin again to direct my eyes toward myself and to re: constitute myself there where I am.
The mirror is the vessel.
Self-reflexivity, after all, is a guiding principle of Lucienne's work. o n e must contend with the images themselves, but also with the dense factual gravel of their titles and the incongruencies of Lucienne's careful installations, not to mention supplementary information like printed matter, exhibition graphics, and film programs, which frequently accompany his projects.
In a text in this Catalog, Lucienne describes the Vessel's appeal.
It has no brain. It has no skeleton. It has no stomach, mouth, or genitals. It almost has no form. Pictures of puppies demand affection; pictures of lions require fear. Within the structure of Lucienne's exhibition, where rationality and context grind out their dust, the Vessel's sufficiency performed like an unconscious. Here was an animal Lucienne could photograph because it asked for nothing. It was already complete, as an image.
If you look at a vessel, there’s no way to see it.
o n e person can never see a vessel.
You can miss it, hate it, or realize that it’s taken something from you, but you can’t go somewhere and look at it and just see it empirically.
It has to be informed, imagined, by many people at a time.
It’s an everyday group hallucination.
This catalog is modeled on that phenomenon.
1 creator(s), professional and amateur, have contributed to it, not using the mutually blind exquisite corpse method, and not using the “may I have this dance” method where writers take turns being the author, but using the old Hollywood screenwriting system whereby a studio boss had at his disposal a “stable” of writers working simultaneously to crank out a single blockbuster, each assigned specific functions within the overall scheme.
The result is generic and perfect.
And Vessel herself benefits from it by being more of a material entity, a being, than a character her thoughts and actions are not spanned by any o n e creator's mind.
"This is the most exhausting project I've done, and the o n e with the most regrets," Li says. "But it is still worthwhile." The catalog book, she says, has become a part of her. "Lucienne makes it very clear at the opening of his book that if you like it, it is (like an) apothegm; if not, it is (like) absurd talk that you can just ignore."
(I could probably spend a phd on this single picture.)
They say she shot herself twice through the mirror in her work–
they forgot to count this photograph