The Image and Its Associations With Violence

“Violence of the image, violence on the image and why some images escape violence”.

K K Muhamed
K K Muhamed

Nature has bestowed human beings with an immaculate faculty called imagination. Unlike others, this is one of the faculties which is growing with every generation; not only that, each new generation is also bestowed with a compulsion and capacity to reproduce mental imagery as paintings, architecture, music and innumerable artefacts. As with the germination of imagination in our innerscapes, the ideas and images are formed and elaborated; history progressively gets transformed and enriched with images and features of man’s own making. Throughout history, each output of the imagination was also a source of perceptual input, with the stimulated imagination and thought process in the invention of new things further enriching and broadening the boundaries of the perceptual space. The interface between the inner space of imagination and the outer physical space of perceptual experience is primarily the human body. The dynamic activities of an inner and an outer space intersecting across a bodily interface that anchors the system in nature constitutes what we call cultural space.

The world is full of images, out there before you, all things are available for use or conception, and it is a question of grasping or digesting, and doing it with passion. This process is intimate and intuitive. It is this passion that makes the distinction from all other representations of the image, the power of its stigma, or its distraction, with the ability to shock , to confront and the possibility of presence and the separation; it has the power to change the consciousness and ultimately to effect change in the world. The power of the image is often sufficiently threatening to warrant censorship, no doubt with all the ambiguity and ambivalence that we attach to the image. It can create continuity with its multifaceted possibilities even amidst disparities and in heterogeneous spaces.

The images germinate from earth, but it contains the sky as well. Every image has its own sky, the sky gives the image its light but the light of an image emerges from the image itself, it builds itself on and to the soil, this is true of every image including religious images, unless the religiosity of the image degrades or crushes the image, so the image is not a manifestation in itself, it is a phenomenon with its own sky and its shadow.

Every image in some way or other is a portrait, not that it reproduces the traits of a person, but because it extracts something, an intimacy, a force. It disturbs homogeneity by adding, subtracting or removing. It throws it in front of us, and this throwing, this projection, makes its mark. With its very traits and its stigma, with its tracing, its line, with its style and incision, the image reaches out with its visuality, through voice or noise or through the very meaning of words. So the image is not only visual it is also musical, poetic, even tactile and kinesthetic. The intimate force of an image is not just the representation, but the thinking that gets activated. Images draws and withdraws, it extracts by withholding and it is with this force that the image touches us.

Some images are violent; some are subtle. The continuous stream of images or the repetition of it makes it exhaustive or banal. It doesn’t prompt thinking, only creates violence in our mind and on the earth, but this violence of the image doesn’t shock us anymore as it has become habitual – these images of ceaseless violence breaking out all over the world as acts of violence or with violence in the acts. In both the violence and the image there is something necessary and something unnecessary – there are two possible essences of the image and of violence, and consequently also two essences of the violence of the image and the image of violence. To understand it clearly we have to consider violence on its own, the proper mode in which violence operates in relation to truth, from there we discover the traits that lead us to the image.

Some violence does not participate in any order of reasoning; it takes away the reason and the meaning. This violence remains outside of the system, rather than be compassionate. On the contrary it creates intolerability within the space of possibilities and rips apart and destroys anything and everything. It has no interest in knowing, its only interests is ignorance and blindness. It is concerned only with its own shattering intrusion and the damage it can create in and around. It gets its nourishment from the calculated absence of thought willed by a rigid intelligence. The violence thus formed will split open the relations, it will never ever serve truth. It wants, on the contrary, to be the truth itself.


Violence on a non-violent image
Violence on a non-violent image

There are certain forms of violent situations which are exemplary and essential, like violence against racism and gender discrimination, creative violence, and revolutionary violence. Here there is truth in the violence, in a way it will be sensible and makes sense of the truth, or we can say that the truest truth is violent in its inevitable ways. Truth cannot irrupt without tearing apart an established order, it is this terrible ambiguity which creates beauty in its transgression of boundaries, but here in the truest truth, the violence is contained in itself. In other cases truth is reduced into the mode of violence and is not contained but unleashed and not accountable as we can see the violence that completes itself in the image.

This is what leads to the issues and possibilities of the image and how and why violence maintains the image and violence always makes an image itself and the image is that of itself. It is the fundamental character of the image, rather than the mimetic character that is attached to the term image. Even when an image is mimetic, it counts for more than an image, like a shadow or a reflection, it has its own sky and its own shadows. Thus it is a continuation of the self affirmation of the image, or the self in the image itself.

Violence has its truth and truth has its own violence and its realization takes place in the image. Here the image is mimetic, only in the sense in which imitation emulates the violence, the transgression, the concern, the strife for representation or for the presence. Here the image takes the violence out of its simple presence and brings it to the fore by way of representation. The image becomes the presence of the subject, it turns to a prodigious or a prophetic sign, so the image is emerging from the world, it embarks as drawing from the depths, opening it out and throwing it forward, it is the unified force of the image, the unity derived from the diversity, it is this force which all the great work of arts posses and shows us tirelessly and constantly in renewed forms and strategies. The ‘artist’ is in search of this force and unless and until, s/he is able to unleash this force in his/her endeavours, it remains as a plastic object rather than assuming the status of an art work. The force carries itself to a presence, here the image deforms or transforms itself, it turns into dynamic and energetic metaphors, and goes beyond the presence, goes beyond the image itself. Imagination is not the faculty of representing something in its absence, instead imagination is the force that draws the image out of absence and presents to the world.

The image is a forceful sign of an improbable presence emerging from the wildest depths of restlessness. The entire art world, the entire history is full of images of violence, from Greek to contemporary. The ambiguity of the image and the violence in image and of the image opening itself in violence is an excess of signs, so the image is also an excess, so no doubt art can also be defined as a transgression, being carried away beyond signs.


Violence on the image
Violence on the image

Violence, even in the most non-violent imageries, often reveals that the most terrible is always a possibility. But to explain which or what kills or mars the very possibility of image is a problematic one -forbidden creation or restricted images. Forbidding representation has everything to do with the truth of representation. Here the representation is to be understood in the strict sense of its own; here the iconoclasm in religious sense is the abstention from the images. Most of the monolithic religions forbid worship of images, but it has been extrapolated out of it through interpretation, the questions concerned are idolatry, not that of representation.

What simultaneously creates connections and disconnections within itself? What joins two images? Or what discounts them? And what provokes passage and divisions between them? Certainly these are more complex, more subtle and more enigmatic issues than they seem to be.

The motif of an intelligible form or image is one that forms intelligibility itself. It can always fall victim to the operation of an idolatry intimidation, yes, it is a motivational force. But what is always at stake is in the process of production of the very visuality of the image. Auditory or textual representation is somewhat opposite to idol making. Its tautological presence, as it is bringing things to the presence of an intelligible reality by the formal mediation of a sensory reality, or the works are open to intrigue or discussion. Here sensibility and a theoretical disposition is outside of meaning and vaguely determinable.

The entire religious history is a nightmarish image, with its unstoppable violence and intolerance. It is not just an accident that took place within the premises of history. In an interview Joseph Beuys speaks of Auschwitz, as that which cannot be represented, that awful image, that which cannot be presented as an image but which could only be presented in the actual process of its happening, while it happened, which cannot be translated into an image. This can only be remembered as it were via a positive opposite image, that is, by humans removing this blemish from the world. It distances itself from every possible other images, this horror cannot be placed within an image and thereby (re)presented without letting the reality of it escape, for the whole of this reality resides in the execution itself. All one could really do in this case is to oppose that execution to another actual deed in the opposite direction. Curiously, this deed also qualifies as an image precisely because there is no real obliteration. The world which created Auschwitz is still our own world, along with the haunting presence of it in our memories and the knowledge that nothing of those camps can be represented because the camps themselves were an execution of the representation. Perhaps this reminder has acted as a sole ground, and triggers all the representation of death opening onto absence and onto absence, or finitude opening onto the infinite.

The representation that is forbidden by the Auschwitz camp is precisely the representation that I wanted to call forbidden in a sense, rather than subjecting representation to prohibition. The representation itself is forbidding. It is the subject of its own retreat, of its own interception, indeed of its own deception too. Instead of throwing itself outside of itself, this representation hollows presence out and retains it within itself.


'Desire Machine'
‘Desire Machine’

Some religions have one image; some others have several images while some have no image at all like a hidden absence, or within the depth of an absence, or affirmation of an absence, a flight into infinity. It appears in history with different registers of meaning and changing order to the point of overthrowing the entire order. These images or its absence represents the order of the meaning that posited with the earth, equally separated from the order of language and from that of nature. It is an order of the body, of embodied extension, disposed and exposed, sometimes it has nothing other than itself, outside itself, (we no longer asks ourselves whether religion to be found in god’s betrayal by man or man alienated himself in the image of god, The god stopped speaking long back, now the man only speak.)

Our consciousness of our own being is not primarily an image, it is feeling. Creating an image is not distinguished from the culture but presented to gather with culture in a given contextual relationship or it may be a possibility of a taking position of sense, a localization or locality of sense, which make sense only by being occupied within itself, creating an opening and thus a visibility, not just by the perspective of a gaze upon an object, but as the opening and presentation of a sense. Sense as such has no material, no fibers, or consistency no grain or thickness, so sense requires the image in order to emerge from its invisibility and inaudibility. So sense requires sound, text and image to make sense out of absence.

The flagrant difference between the text and image is that text represents signification, the image represents itself, the image shows itself to text which shows itself to image. So an imagined image and a word show each other showing themselves the something and get in a different way. Does a text make an image of the image it interprets, in any sense, what the text or an imagery to show is to manifest, to reveal, to place in view, to shed light, to indicate to signal, to produce etc. Here there are two kinds of showing “heterogeneous and yet stuck to one another. So it is a n enigma to each other, because each discerns itself in the other, each one draws the other towards itself or is being drawn towards it, and there is always a created tension. Every image and every text is potentially and respectively text and image for itself, this potential is actualized in the viewing or reading, actual or virtual.

What is virtual, we have to be very careful not to fall into the vagueness of the notion of difference, that is, it is opposed to the real, actually the virtual is not opposed to the “real” but to the actual “the virtual is fully real in so far as it is virtual” — so the virtual is real without being actual, ideal without being abstract, and symbolic without being fictional and factual, so the virtual must be defined as strictly a part of the real. What is being invoked is not a partial or confused determination but by a completely determined structure formed by its genetic differential elements, its virtual or embryonic elements. (Clamour of Being -the virtual.) It is a pure multiplicity in the idea, multiplicity formed by the virtual coexistence of all section of images. It is open to realization of a creative evolution of matter and meaning.

History of thought always puts the notion of truth into crisis, every mod of truth collapses in favour of a sensible narration. In each occasion it invents, creating a flash of light in the minds or unleashing a cry in the midst of visual thing, to think means to experiment and to problamatise in the fields of, knowledge as a problem, the true thinking is first of all seeing and speaking.

(K K Muhamed is a Kerala born Baroda based visual artist)