Gretchen Bender, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Joep van Liefland, Julia Wachtel

What is the linguistic nature of the image? This question has become harder to answer since the wake of the era of reproduction, where one is confronted by an abundance of images every day. However, the French semiotician Roland Barthes deems our civilization one of writing despite this fact: in the visual mass media, a linguistic message is constantly present, be it in the form of advertisement, label, caption, or title; which has been the case since television took over home entertainment in the 50s.

For Barthes, the linguistic elements that constantly pry with our images have two differing functions: anchorage and relay. Barthes writes: “All images are polysemous; they imply, underlying their signifiers, a "floating chain" of signifieds, the reader able to choose some and ignore others.”

The linguistic elements work in a way against this chaos, fixing the images. In the case of advertising, anchorage is very common; when a word is chosen specifically to anchor the image to the chosen meaning. Relay, on the other hand, works in a different way: “Here text (most often a snatch of dialogue) and image stand in a complementary relationship; the words, in the same way as the images, are fragments of a more general syntagm and the unity of the message is realized at a higher level. (…) While rare in the fixed image, this relay-text becomes very important in film, where dialogue functions not simply as elucidation but really does advance the action by setting out, in the sequence of messages, meaning that are not to be found in the image itself.”

Gretchen Bender has been investigating the effects of mass media on our society since the late 80s. Her TV Text & Image works consist of an old TV screen that broadcasts live TV with often politicized phrases superimposed over the images. With the various literary elements over the images, there is a constant mutation of meaning and a constant mental interaction with the viewer.

Lynn Hershman Leeson uses a mix of interactive media and technology to explore themes like identity, existence, surveillance, and artificial intelligence; blurring the lines between the real and the virtual. „Evidence of a Faulty Algorithm Nr. 3“ is part of her mirror-printed series Missing Person, through which the defects of the AI-system create a sense of distrust in the viewer as to whom the portraits actually belong to.

Through his ongoing engagement with obsolete artifacts and images of the information age, Joep van Liefland examines the conversion between the analogue and the digital and the general transience of media, information, and memory in our culture. His work The End juxtaposes images and texts of the collective memories of our society, functioning as a time capsule, while also posing questions about the relentless march of progress in the era of mass production.

Julia Wachtel’s works confront the viewer with emotionally charged loops and thought-provoking visuals, capturing the essence of a civilization being fed “disposable images” and inviting the viewer to reflect on the pervasive influence of media. The rather intuitive sound pairings of her video works create a discrepancy with the image, opening up possibilities of new associations to the moving images.

Special thanks to the artists, Nilsu Cakmur, Johannes Zacharias, Lucia Hommel, Jonathan Levy, Gretchen Bender Estate, Sprüth Magers NYC, Wouters Gallery, and SuperDakota.

Barthes, Roland. “Rhetoric of the Image.” In Image - Music - Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.