Marc Ries

M I D D L E   W O R L D S
Notes on Daniel Schörnig ’s “Filmfarben ”

Rays are not colored. Newton

An image. The image is a “Lichtbild” [literally light image; photograph]. This is the term for all those images produced by means of the technical and autonomous recording of the appearances of things as unified. The image shows coloured motifs. In order to be an image of the reality of its motifs it has to become colour, just as it initially becomes an impression of their contrasts. In order for the colours of objects to enter the image there must be a technique for both reading the light according to the parameters of human chromatic perception and producing the colours accordingly. The image becomes coloured. As such it is its colour. (If an image has no colour it will be expressly referred to as “black and white”.) We regard photographic images as reproductions and often forget that the way they appear to us is the result of decisions made by the apparatus that dictate the way the image becomes what it is. In this connection, Schelling observes: “If light is the reproduction of production itself, […] it should come as no surprise that thought itself is nothing other than the last outbreak of that which was begun by light.” Thought reproduces the world of things with technical means, e.g. as images, without calling upon these means to communicate thought itself. And thought is also capable of dissolving the world of things, reducing them to mere
unsubstantial calculation. Understanding is properly a process that attempts to bring together the various parts of the object in question, to combine them and thus to think them as composite, in order to comprehend the object as it is. Understanding is the faculty capable of this movement of drawing elements together, thus the Greek term synesis. A whole always appears to us composed of parts. This seems to be a necessary law of production. It is for this reason that we like to reduce things to their component parts, understanding them in order to better understand the whole and more particularly in order to become capable of reproducing it. Such a way of understanding can in any case be identified in the way we observe images. An image is necessarily a composite, yet observation is less concerned with the component parts than with the appearance itself as a whole, a totality. This notion has first been relativised by the advent of moving images. Although what we are seeing is “a film”, we are obviously seeing it as a composite of many individual images. Moreover, we may subject the film to analysis by pausing it, in order to better understand a sequence or enjoy it more intensely by contemplating the images more closely. This analysis in the service of a posterior synthesis nevertheless doesn’t enable us to separate and assess the individual material elements of each frame. This will be the programme of the new genre of digital imagery. Now the elements of images can be isolated and obtain their own independent existence. Every pixel attains the status of an atomic individual in the image, can be shifted around, removed and recoded at will. The same thing happens with all the other image values, e.g. the colours, which no longer have to be calculated according to preset algorithms. The new operation may calculate the average chromatic value of an image, generalize this value and use it to make an entire image. Daniel Schörnig performs this operation in his works FILMFARBEN, GRAUE MASSE GRÜNLICH, GRAUE MASSE BLÄULICH. Although the way they embrace the new type of image logic is understandable, they remain perplexing. Yet we know that it is not a perplexity over the artistic gesture but rather over that which dictates it and what it itself causes to come into being.

There are two procedures which synesis puts perfidiously to work. The first is the extraction and isolation of the colours from their bodily existence in and as the image; they are now of relevance only in and of themselves, no longer due to their referential or hermeneutical function within a whole. They begin to lead their own life, but not for long; the aim of the “tropical” operation is to calculate an average chromatic value and to posit this value absolutely in the image. We see a single colour, such as it never existed; an average, a value from the centre of a world of reckoning. This violent operation, which seems to derive ist meaning from a logic of the technical enforcement of power while working toward some kind of “utility”, always has a political aim. This aim expresses itself in the coupling of synesis and statisticum, i.e. “that which regards the state”: A statistical logic that calculates average values in order to attain control over the diverse and the singular. What is an average anyway? The average is that unreal value that results from the sum of all the given, often very divergent, values of individual bodies, when they are added together and divided by their number. This average or middle value contains something of everything, but is itself non-existent, is situated between all the other values, as well as above them, removed from the real. It is a chimera, born of a desire to unite and unify all divergent singularities, in order to obtain the authority to make decisions in the interest of the medial point, decisions that will apply to all. Statistics is the incursion of the state into the life of the individual, the “mathematical manipulation of reality” in league with the societal penetration of this reality as social, the despotic rule of the big number.

The world appears in colours, the world is colourful. To produce images of the world in colour is to acknowledge its diversity, the overwhelming variegation of its chromatics bodies. Every colour image of the world attests in its singularity to the existence of all those who perceive it. Since only they will apprehend it as precisely this particular colour image it is their image. Colour cinema is always an occasion to celebrate the audience’s connection to a non-cultured state of the world prior to its disciplined normalization, its conformist uniformity. The world obtained through cinema expresses our commonality in ist multiplicity. Many films contain deeds and events that interrupt the quotidian and put on stage bodies in process of diverging. With its divergences, its cases that break out of the normal, heightening and often violently asthetisising it, cinema holds an attraction for all those required to behave according to a preset normality. Cinema in this respect consists of singular deeds and events, the aberrational and expenditive.
If the calculus of average colour values is applied to the objects of cinema, these objects are instantly eliminated, their divergence leveled into a medium with which they are not identical, even though they appear within it. When rendered as the calculated average of their appearance, colours behave, predictably enough, negatively; the result is grey, i.e. indifferent, devoid of subjectivity. The operation turns out a successful failure. It demonstrates its universal authority und executes its object. This can be observed everywhere where averages are calculated to legitimate systems and policies. Newton’s physics may gloat over the laconic claim that no colours occur in his world of physically measurable waves. The strict pursuit of the internal logic of statistics applied to the social world, as well as that of the digital in its application to a chromatic world, becomes an absurd celebration of arbitrary instrumental reason. Daniel Schörnig’s artistic gesture successfully demonstrates this.

The text owes much to Hannah Arendt’s reflections on the “despotic rule” of the “big numbers” in: “Vita Activa oder Vom tätigen Leben”. The Schelling quote is taken from Heide Schlüpmann‘s “Öffentliche Intimität. Die Theorie im Kino”. Frankfurt/M.: Stroemfeld 2002, p. 12.