José Luis Brea’s “Looking ahead”
Posted on 16 February, 2015
Loreto Alonso Atienza
On January 15-17, the “Three Eras of the Image” conference took place at Biblioteca Vasconcelos, in Mexico City. Organized by Centro de la Imagen and 17 Instituto de Estudios Críticos, it gathered major figures in the field of visual studies, such as Keith Moxey, William J. T Mitchell and Mieke Bal. The title of the conference was taken from the last book of the late Spanish thinker José Luis Brea.
Brea’s work traces a very significant trajectory to understand the evolution and the problematics surrounding contemporary art, new forms of production and distribution of images, and current epistemological possibilities. Brea started out as an artist, curator, writer, and born experimenter. Noteworthy works from his first period are Nuevas estrategias alegóricas and Un ruido secreto, where his thought is entwined with art and conceptual and linguistic strategies, forms which seem to grow until their dissolution in post-media aesthetics. The following works are characteristic of this tendency: El tercer umbral and Cultura RAM develop a radically critical and analytical thinking of the possibilities of images under global capitalism, eventually arriving at visual studies: a thinking environment devoid of all the old disciplines of the arts and of art history, without methodological alignments, with his ever present critical attitude, featured on Las tres eras de la imagen as well as on the selection of his last texts, edited by María Virginia Jaua, under the title El cristal se venga, recently published by Fundación Jumex.
As Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro pointed out, Brea’s work explores these varied issues with a mobile thought, unafraid to put on hold any dogma whatsoever. From different points of view, there is a constant concern with the managing mode of images in both production and circulation. In his later years he stressed how they are constructed and how we can break apart these modes of control and hegemony under the “managed hypervisuality” regime in which we live today.
Las tres eras de la imagen is an essential book for anyone interested in thinking about images, and thinking from present-day images. With remarkable clarity and synthetic power, it journeys along the non-linear, usually synchronic times of image-matter, image-film, and electronic image (e-image).
A promise of eternity and a metastable archive, on the image-matter contents remain ever singular and identifiable, given to our eye to see, under a Christian and oculo-centric culture. A promise of eternity and individuation, this image-matter appears in painting, sculpture, photography and other objects constituting a form of storing memory, which in IT terms we could liken to a computer’s ROM.
Image-film does not accord with the visions of a biological human eye, but rather to those of a technical eye. It is a dynamic image. In Deleuze’s theory of film, it is termed image-movement and image-time. Dream, projection, project, this image-film holds the promise of the modern subject’s emancipation, for whom art becomes a revealer of the visible. Image-film offers short-term memory, an REM memory, based on the retinal persistence of the 1/24 ratio, corresponding to what Brea –following Benjamin- calls JetzZeit, “Now-Time”.
Lastly, e-image is the image of a thousand screens, of absolute ubiquity; a ghost image, without an original, and a commodity image that can serve both as tallow for the conspicuous consumption circuits in capitalist economies, and as an emancipation hope of a future in a symbolic economy of abundance, where access becomes more important than property, and where it is essential to fight for the construction of communities that share data and ideas. A trace of Duchamp’s “inframince”, in the age of electronic reproducibility, memory is a processing engine, corresponding in IT terms to a computer’s RAM.
Brea’s thought isn’t through yet. Images are increasingly complex machines, and a concern for contemporary scopic regimes is increasing. As an example of zero tolerance for spectacle, as Hernández Navarro reminds us, José Luis Brea continues to be the developer of a courageous critique of the autonomy of art, and of the epistemological undercurrents we strive to navigate.