James Clegg, 'A Long Chapter One' (Art Review, 41, 05/2010)

The Equation of Desire (2010) is an extensive selection of photographs Martin Soto Climent has made by photographing yearbooks dating from 1959 to 1972. By carefully overlapping or curling pages, Climent creates photographs which show images emerging from and receding into smooth recesses and folds, bending the flat plane which pictorial conventions have tended to equate with a certain vantage point. The inclusion of eyes and bodies, political violence and emaciated persons with the occasionally repeated character or recognisable face make this a particularly rich work: a web of gazes, otherness and historical moments.

The work evokes longstanding discussions about photography, torn between the absent living subjects and the present apparatus in which desire is ideologically being constructed. But the sense of desire evoked by Climent relates to the representational practices that cross the arts. Here I’m thinking of Jaques Rancière’s readings of films, such as Godard’s montage Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-98), where a certain meeting between words and pictures can bestow upon a single image a paradoxical weight of meaning (the religiosity of which Rancière is attempting to expose). Here it is not just interesting that Climent’s photographs, though without words, seem to invest these old photographs with an unfamiliar weight of meaning, but also that Climent’s sculptural work has previously been likened to ‘fragments of poetry’ or to Chekhov’s ‘jewel-like images’.

This is a textbook (or, literally, ‘picture book’) response to desire, in the range of ideas it marks, but it may bring with it some of the dusty problems of a textbook. After the period covered by the yearbooks Climent has sourced, there was, in the Anglo-American world, at least, a dramatic explosion of photographic practices exploring subcultures and alternative sexual practices. And considering this, The Equation of Desire also seems to regurgitate relatively normative positions without significantly questioning them.

On light of Climent’s broader practice, however, where sculptural pieces are carelfully yet contingently made from found material, my reading of the Equation of Desire seems uncomfortably heavy. In contrast, the sculptures exhibited in the same space, Sugar Skull and My Heart (2007 and 2010), are light, mobile forms comprising balanced coathangers and/or glass objects. In another room, a globe appears surrounded by a cloudlike expanse of white sugar in an installation called A Sweet Silly Idea (2010).

Here I think this question of weight is crucial. How much weight does or should The Equation of Desire carry, and what of A Sweet Silly Idea? This ambitious project is to be continued into 2011, and with its development I think we, and Climent, need to think carefully about the connections and disparities his practice seem to entail. Deleuze once commented that the beauty of Godard’s practice was that it strove not for a ‘correct’ image, but just for an image. How might Climent’s practice still maintain ‘correct’ images, images that confirm dominant positions; and in light of Rancière’s recent insights, does the ambiguity of just an image really constitute an alternative or another convention?