The Canadian Art Database

John Sallis

Voices of Stone: Cathexis, Paul Kipps
The Oakville Gairloch Galleries, April 4 - May 27, 1998

From the catalogue
[ 2,906 words ]

ca · thex · is (kεθéksis) pl. ca · thex · es (kεθéksi:z) n. (psychoanal.) the investment of emotional significance in an object, activity or idea : the charge of psychic energy invested in this way [fr. Gk kathexis, a holding, trans. of G. besetzung, used by Freud]

What if art were to give voice to stone? As, in the theatre, it gives voice to a character on stage — or, rather, borrowing the voice of the actor, gives it back to him as the voice of another. What if art were to venture so far as to give voice to something to which voice is so alien that one could hardly even say that it is mute? As voice is alien to stone. What if art were to give voice to something from which, as from stone, it could not have borrowed that voice in order to give it back? Can such an unconditioned gift, such a pure gift of voice, ever enable art to say in its own voice — that is, to show, to make sensibly manifest — what stone is and how it is with stone today, in what we call our time?


In Paul Kipps's work everything is a matter of distance, of difference, of a certain kind of difference.

He calls it 'the issue of alienation.' Yet in his extraordinary way of setting into his work those relations bordering on nonrelation that one would readily designate by this word, his work also comes to put in play other differences that structure and frame the forms of removal to which alienation would be most properly applied.

Thus it is hardly fortuitous that Kipps was led to use stone in his works. From Sound and colour neighbours on, stone enters into his work, though without these works ever quite being simply of stone, as classical sculpture was, for instance, of marble. In a sense the stone is less assimilated to the work: it is neither a matter of imposing upon it a preconceived form, of making it embody a shape seen in advance with the mind's eye; nor is it a matter of eliciting from the stone a form slumbering in it, as one sees in the uncompleted sculptures of Michelangelo, as one can see precisely because they are uncompleted, because the form has not yet come, as otherwise it would have, to control the material. In Kipps's works the stone still has, in a sense, the look of its naturalness; within the work itself the stone retains the look of something that comes from nature, that still belongs to nature. Since, of all the things of nature, stone is perhaps what is furthest from the human world consider, for instance, how remote lithic time is from the existential time of human involvements stone is uniquely capable of setting forth remoteness, distance, difference within the work itself, of thus making these manifest in and through the work.

Yet in the human world this remoteness, the difference that lies in the naturalness of stone, can be reduced. Stone in its naturalness can be submitted to degradation. In bringing stone into the work so as to let its remoteness, its naturalness, become manifest, Kipps at the same time modifies it so that, along with its very naturalness, the work makes manifest the degradation to which stone is submitted in being appropriated to the human world, at least to a human world, that of our time. As in You played the innocent: here a photograph shows a shaft in a rock face that was drilled in order to insert explosives in the course of a road building project, and, as Kipps says, 'it acts like a scar.' Also as in Sound and colour neighbours, the first work in which Kipps used stone: two series of stones install this difference into the work, one series painted white so as to present stone degraded into mere markers of the bounds of property, the other series reinscribed in their very naturalness by having inscribed on them the calls of various birds from the same region as the stones themselves. In the work the difference is presented as a difference violated, not just by reduction and assimilation, but by deformation and scarring, to such an extent that a violent reinscription (by sandblasting) is required in order to assure that the difference is set forth in the work.

Kipps's work thus sets forth difference, sets it forth in and through the artwork itself. But in this work there is put in play not only the difference between stone in its naturalness and in the degradation that it undergoes in the human world. His work puts also into play the difference between stone and image. This is accomplished most immediately through the fact that stone is used in order to compose a spectacle, something to be seen from a certain distance and detachment; the work is itself an image in this most immediate sense. This character of the work as an image — and, hence, its putting in play the difference between stone and image — is, at once, compounded and underlined in the most recent works, those that no longer consist of stones modified in certain ways but rather of photographs of stones. As with the works recently exhibited in Montréal: by way of a photograph, for instance, of stone gates that mark the entrance to an old estate and thus serve as instruments and symbols of exclusion, stone is shown degraded into a boundary for property, and its very appropriation to this human space is presented in the work by the photograph's being displayed in a frame that, though quite large, resembles those normally used for the sort of domestic mementos that are set on desktops and mantels. Thus, as photographs, as images of stone, these works set forth image and stone in their difference while also showing both in a certain domestication to which they are submitted in our time.

One could hardly imagine a more radical difference than that between stone and image. Stone's massive solidity and hardness make it the very paradigm of something substantial; this character is enhanced by stone's heaviness, its immobility, and its permanence. If one would provide a substantial foundation for any structure, be it a building, a monument, or a roadway, nothing more naturally suggests itself for this purpose than stone, at least nothing other than the earth itself. And if, as in a Gothic cathedral, stone is made to appear so light as to ascend toward the heaven, this metamorphosis seems hardly less than miraculous. On the other hand, an image is the very paradigm of the insubstantial. With a photograph, for instance, it is not only a matter of its being distinct from the person pictured in it but also of its utterly lacking the flesh and blood that constitute the living substance of that person, In the photograph there is only the look of the person, nothing more. This insubstantiality is enhanced by the extreme mobility that the products of certain forms of image-making have, not only those forms made possible by modern technology but also certain very old forms. Thus, in a passage of the Republic, Socrates tells Glaucon of a wonderful artisan who 'is not only able to make all implements but also makes everything that grows naturally from the earth; and he produces all animals the others and himself too and, in addition to that, produces earth and heaven and gods and everything in heaven and everything in Hades under the earth.' Glaucon is distrustful until Socrates tells him that he himself could be such an artisan and explains: 'You could fabricate them quickly in many ways and most quickly, of course, if you are willing to take a mirror and carry it around everywhere; quickly you will make the sun and the things in the heaven; quickly, the earth; and quickly, yourself and the other animals and implements and plants and everything else that was just now mentioned'. One will answer, with Glaucon, that what are produced are not things themselves but only appearances, insubstantial phantoms, fleeting images.

But the difference between stone and image is still more radical. For stone is, like the earth itself, essentially self closed, self closing against any move to penetrate it and open it to the light and to an open vision. Using sufficient force one can of course smash a stone to pieces, but in doing so one will discover that the closure of the stone is simply replicated in each of its pieces. On the other hand, an image is as such completely open: what lies in an image, whatever belongs to it, is visible in it. An image is nothing other than the surface that it shows to one's vision (even if, as with sculpture, it is not literally reducible to surface). Even in the extreme case where, as in certain of Kandinsky's paintings, one only gradually discovers the images and one's vision of the painting is thus submitted to a peculiar temporality, the images are nonetheless there to be seen on the surface of the painting, and it is a matter only of deferred vision, not of a closure impermeable to it. To say that an image is completely open is not to say that in another dimension, in its relation to its original, it may not be concealing. Perhaps even, considered not simply as an image but as an image of an original, it cannot but be concealing; yet in this regard what it conceals, what it closes off, is not itself but the original, which it also to a reciprocal degree reveals.

A photograph of stone is thus the most open presentation of that which is perhaps most self closed. An artwork that consists of a photograph of stone gathers and sets forth these opposites, presents the difference as such.


Yet in the works in which Kipps uses stone there is still another difference always manifestly in play, that constituted by the moment of language: either in the form of inscription (as in The distance between us in which stones were cut in half and inscriptions set on their opposing faces); or in the form of natural voices posed near the threshold of language as such (as in Sound and colour neighbours in which bird calls are inscribed on a set of boulders); or in the form of living speech, of the human voice (as in 30 voices of resistance in which the stones are fitted with a sound system and in this way given voice).

It is necessary to distinguish between different ways in which a moment of language (whatever form it may assume) can bear on an artwork. One way is that of a moment of language that comes from without, as when, on the basis of one's vision of a work, one ventures to say what becomes manifest in it. This way becomes more complex in the case of those works in relation to which it is not simply a matter of attempting to match speech to vision, that is, in those cases where there is another moment of language on the side of the work itself. It becomes more complex also when, as here, one ventures various differentiations in order to analyze and not merely to express the manifestation accomplished by the work.

Another way in which a moment of language can bear on a work is as a title. As entitling the work, such a moment bears on it less extrinsically than does the language that expresses or analyzes the manifestation. And yet, while bearing intrinsically on the work, it still does not strictly belong to the work itself or rather, it belongs to it, but only from without. Entitling is like framing, at least in those instances in which the frame is not treated merely decoratively but precisely as bearing upon, as suited precisely to, the work, perhaps even contributing to the manifestation that the work itself accomplishes, as with the frames in which Kipps places his large photographs of stone as if they were domestic mementos. A title is like a frame, both belonging and not belonging to the work itself, except that a frame, as a visible rather than linguistic moment, has a certain continuity or homogeneity with the work that a title, on the other hand, does not have.

Yet a moment of language can also belong to the work itself to the same full extent that the visible moments belong to it. If in the form of inscription, then the moment of language doubles as a visible moment; but even in this instance, even in the mere doubling, the gigantic difference between the said and the seen, between word and vision, between what philosophy has always called the intelligible and the sensible, is set into the work itself in such a way that this difference of all differences is set forth in and through the work. Setting the moment of language into the work provides, as Kipps describes it, 'a way of laminating one kind of relationship with another.' But the presentation of this difference is only enhanced when, in his most recent works, Kipps replaces the inscriptions with an audible voice, laminating in a way that keeps the linguistic layer distinct from the visible layer. And just as what one sees in the work is no longer stone itself but an image (a photograph) of stone, so likewise what one hears is a recorded voice, a reproduced voice that is like the voice of a ghost inhabiting a mere shade of stone.

Even before Kipps began using stone, this difference was set into his works in extraordinary ways. For instance, in a work entitled Keeping Secrets (A Part of Me I Keep Hidden), there are inscriptions seen in reverse (and as such illegible) on a wall, which are reflected in a series of water filled vessels. The words become understandable only by a certain detour through vision, and what the work makes manifest is, as Kipps says, a certain 'delay between seeing and comprehension.'

In the most recent works, those in which a photograph of stone(s) is provided with a recording by which a text is (repeatedly) voiced, a certain effect is released across the difference separating the spectacle seen (the image of stone[s]) from the meaning of the text voiced. Were it only a matter of visibility, one would call this effect a mirroring or imaging. Were it only a matter of speech, one would call the effect a resonating or echoing. But here the effect extends precisely between visibility and speech, establishing between them certain correspondences. As in the work entitled It was chance, the title duplicating the initial words spoken (repeatedly) by the recorded female voice. In the series of eleven short sentences, each expresses a response to an unidentified happening. The response consists precisely in saying how it was (or was not) that this happening occurred:

It was chance

It was not providence

It was coincidence

It was the odds

It was luck

It was not belief

It was fortune

It was timing

It was circumstance

It was not control

It was by accident[.]

All the sentences merely elaborate in a sense what the first says, what the title also says: 'It was chance.' This 'how' is what appears in the photograph, which pictures a random appearing assortment of stones arranged as if by accident, as if by chance.

The title of the work It was your silence duplicates not the initial words but the final ones. Here the speech is of a most remarkable, not to say paradoxical, kind: speech about not speaking, speech about silence. The (recorded female) voice expresses a series of forms of comportment toward another, forms of relation that border on nonrelation, as does silence toward another, the silence to which all these forms could readily be taken to lead: resistance, doubt, fear, indifference, inflexibility, selfishness, anger, coldness, confidence, distance each of these words preceded by the same words, 'It was your...,' the entire series ending then with 'It was your silence.' What one sees in the photograph of stone is a peculiar correspondence that inverts the intertwining of speech and silence that occurs in speech about silence. For, of all the things of nature, perhaps nothing is more silent than stone, to which even the wind only rarely gives voice and never so as to let it sing as grasses, trees, woods are made to sing by the wind. What the photograph shows is stone that is scarred not only by breaks and cracks but, above all, by the presence of a speaker, of a speaker in the electronic sense from which sounds the recorded voice speaking about silence. Stone, in all its silence, its self closure, is given voice, violated by the gift of speech, but by a speech that returns finally (repeatedly) to silence, that speaks of silence at the moment when an interval of silence must then intervene, if only to mark the repetition. In the work stone is exposed to the open, given voice, violated by speech; and yet, at the moment if only for a moment when its speech of silence fades into silence, stone is given back to itself, returned to its closure.

From the catalogue

Text: © John Sallis. All rights reserved.

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