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Melbourne-based artist Colin Duncan has developed a series of large works constructed out of sections of braille type, and rendered as a white on white surface. Generated by a Braille printer, with the aid of computer software at the Victorian Institute for the Blind, these subtle works are the result of select photographic images scanned and reproduced in an embossed form. The impact of these fine, raised points, building a gradual body and outline, is necessarily oblique in the sense that the images they reproduce are sensitive to the fluctuations of light and to the movement of the viewer; they may be experienced from the position of both sight and touch, where it is possible to cross from one mode to the other. The proximity of the two modes, of a barely perceptible image and a surface that is receptive to touch, whereby the meaning of the work is 'absorbed', implies a profound intimacy and m this lies the significance of the work. For Colin Duncan the practice of art acts to dissolve the boundaries separating one sense from another and thus introduces a zone that might be best described as polymorphous. While these works lack the differentiation afforded by colour this is not in fact a neutral realm. Once sight ceases to be the single, primary mode of acquiring knowledge, a lucid sense of touch is restored to the realm of epistemology.
This affect of an intimate interpretation is particularly evident in the work, Untitled (Cathedral) (1995), which is in part, a tribute to the writer Raymond Carver's short story of the same name. In this brief narrative one of the characters struggles to describe, for a man who is blind, the structure, dimensions and capacity of a cathedral. At the blind man's suggestion they make a drawing of the cathedral together, with their hands resting one upon the other. Later the blind man asks the narrator to continue drawing with his eyes closed. In the ensuing exchange the narrator comes to feel the enormous gap between his passive, visual acceptance of a televised image of a cathedral and the subsequent sense of an unaccustomed intimacy in the experience of the drawing. The closing lines of the story express his awe at this revelation of an inner spatiality: "My eyes were closed. I was in my house, I knew that. Bull didn't feel like I was inside anything."
In these works there is a particular investment in the selection of the photographic material, a selection based both on a regard for the practice of photography and a preoccupation with which is sustained in the production of the singular image. Adrian Dannatt in the accompanying catalogue affirms the capacity for renewal of the photographic image, where the familiar is both loved and returned; a gift of the original and the affects aroused by its presentation in another, significantly cherished form.
This is nowhere more evident than in the work, Untitled (Chromosome) (1995), where multiple sets of the figure of a chromosome are dispersed within the white space of the panel. Such an imprint is both singular and yet has valency; it contains the potential for what might take place, and in this prefigures not only appearance and sensation, language and proximity, but also ethics. The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in the text The Coming Community offers a view of ethics that affirms the potentiality of being in the proposition of an "inessential singularity" Within this seeming contradiction of something and nothing, where an improbable image is found and yet remains amorphous, Agamben gives us an exegesis of singularity as being "whatever you want, that is, lovable", reminding us that the ethical dimension has an element that pertains to the reciprocal, to a sense of alterity.
In this work Colin Duncan opens up the negative space contained within the dimensions of the affect, which goes beyond aesthetics, and nourishes the impulse to absorb and to trace, not only the outline but also the body of the work. Perhaps this realm can be spoken of as belonging to the pathematic (intimate) or the ethical (proximity) which plays across and returns to the negativity from which it came. Profound, distinct and yet shifting, the singular matrix of the braille dot presupposes a reciprocal and loving pressure of the fingertips, as though it might reproduce a contour and a body, a photograph and an image.
1 . Raymond Carver, 'Cathedral', Vintage Books, New York, 1989
2. Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, University of
Minnesota Press, USA, 1993.