Negation, Possibilisation, Emergence and the Reversed Painting

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My recent work has been a book project on the reversed painting in Western art,
where the reversed painting is defined as a pictorial motif that depicts another
painting or paintings turned against the viewer (think of the huge canvas back
that dominates the left-hand side of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, 1656).
This essay addresses research on a core aspect of the project as pursued
at Durham. Under the aegis of ‘emergence’ it involved thinking about the
political potentiality of the reversed painting in negative and positive lights.
In respect of the motif’s negational role, the image of the reversed canvas
resembles acts of iconoclasm that stimulate the memory or imagination not
only of an obscured image, ‘but all that has attached itself to it in the course
of the fight for and against it and all that this fight has brought to light’
(Dario Gamboni). The powerful negational significance of the reversed canvas
depends, therefore, on its potential effacement of the entire history of the
frontal image it occludes, namely, the complex emergence of the portable easel
painting as the central and most meaningful form of Western culture amongst
many other competing media. Mutatis mutandis, the negation of the world
depends on a prior, constitutive representation of the world. Seen in a positive
light, therefore, the reversed painting can be read as a symbol of collective
imagining that might bring into being a new ideal world – aesthetically and
politically – by inducing an abstract kind of collective longing. The essay
considers some concrete examples of politically emancipatory imagining in
the works of particular artists, as well as theoretical justifications for it in the
aesthetic writings of Friedrich Schiller and Hans Belting, the philosophical
writings of Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl and the political writings
of Giorgio Agamben.
Original languageEnglish
Article number11
JournalInsights E-Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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