The Last Image

Tony Wight Gallery, Chicago
2012


The Last Image draws parallels between the death-drive that spurs urban development and that which fuels image making and meaning making in general, by using the figure of a property developer and builder from Bangalore, M. S. Ramaiah (1922-1997), who is said to have believed that he would die if he ever stopped building.

The series of C-Prints titled The Last Image are constructed using photographs of the builder’s brass bust, and procedures including the re-photographing and scraping of the photographic emulsion. Here the spectral work necessary to prop up a monument, the legacy it stands in for and the representational labor present in the making of the photograph are conflated. Siegfried Kracauer coined the phrase “the last image” to describe the “memory image” that one retains of a person, distinct from the spacio-historical contingency of the photograph. The monument is therefore a kind of “last image” built to postpone corporeal disappearance and yet essential to physically mark the power-structure it simultaneously denotes and hides. The gray and white, checkered Photoshop background and Bluescreen paint employed in these C-prints could be seen as a similar marking of absence – a mere placeholder to be replaced or hidden.

The triptych titled &&& continues this theme of postponement. Each part of the triptych reveals a section of the form of an ampersand cut and folding out of a black rubber surface. This set of formal procedures attempts to create a glyph that is part image and part language; part material and part concept. &, usually a hinge that connects two clauses in a sentence is here unraveled in a series that may be read as “and & and” or “& and &” – both sides of the center competing to be the center.

Finally, in the video loop I Will Die When I Stop Building, the pages of a flipbook animate a construction worker raising his sledgehammer to strike and demolish a dome. The loop of the video reflects the physical life of the portrayed dome, which was part of an architectural complex originally built by Ramaiah in the 1960’s that has been demolished and reconstructed multiple times over the last several decades. Here the figure of Ramaiah stands in for the spectral forces of development that are responsible for the constantly changing shape of a city – In this instance Bangalore, amongst the fastest growing cities in the world – while the concrete body of the laborer is subsumed by the abstract labor that presumably keeps Ramaiah “alive”.