Stop Staring

by thomasmagnahastings

My intention is not to lose sight of the object when standing in front of it. Even if passing currents and bleeps coax my stare sideways, to the wall; my hands: your face, I won’t look away. But the longer I look, the more the object keels under a cloud of images that sprout wrongly from my front step, that I want to call my desire at work but that, when I look again, are actually just my thoughts reclining morosely over the object, ready to go home. When you endeavour to fix your stare on something, it is already too late. We refer to judgment to repair this original missed connect. Our looking remains eternally blasé regardless of our eyebrows. Knowing something and then to see that something bask in that knowing is never total: there is always a particularised remainder, a something left behind that stops one from moving on. Or if you do decide to leave the scene, you feel the guilt of not fully accounting for, of not exposing oneself properly to, the materials in reach. Each one of those keen little moments of duration that cuts itself short to go to the toilet, take a phone call or keep looking elsewhere is met with brute time from the object’s direction. Why should time be so warmly sovereign in your hands but so cool in mine? If I had a hand in my looking I might know why. But the distance judgment requires to present itself as the recourse for a looking that always fails depends upon my hand’s disengagement. How can I make sense of those materials without my hands?

I want to fight back by taking the privilege away from my stare. The prolonged act of staring, I think, is decidedly the wrong kind of looking when it comes to art objects. To behold something without holding it is a refined disappointment I want to cut loose. So instead I suggest you walk blindfolded through the chambers with a trusty silent guide directing your step. And instead of looking, take such a small peep that, before you have even acclimatised to the brilliant light, your eyelid is closed and snuck back behind its cover. Now you can stroll onwards and witness and enjoy that first flash, and the after-image that follows, by using your tongue. These are the two moments of recognition, the beginnings and ends, that cannot be identified and subsumed by judgment, precisely because they are felt reflexively by both subject and object as a shared presence without form. If we judge form with our eyes, we communicate presence with our tongues. I don’t want to let looking take that from me, so stop staring.