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Dean Whitbread 2013

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Written on December 30, 2007, and categorized as Secret and Invisible.
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This question was posed as a comment from Indigo Business a writer (both vertically and laterally) of blogs.

In the face of persistently evaluating music,
how is it possible to truly enjoy that which measures up?

Good question, Indi. And let me extend that question to other things – why stop at music? In the face of persistently evaluating anything, how is it possible to truly enjoy it?

There is an implicit assumption here that analysis – aka persistent evaluation – removes pleasure, conjuring the spectre of unsmiling white-coated laboratory technicians holding clipboards, observing the mechanical processes of love, sex and death, yet unmoved by the passion, fucking and dying which they witness as they measure minute electrical responses and exact quantities of bodily fluid.

Detachment doesn’t mean not caring. Analysis brings its own shiny set of pleasures to the table, which are not necessarily stainless steel cool. May I refer your honour to the glorious practice of looking at images? Exhibit A: my own image, Holloway Road handcuffs retrieved, M’Lud, from his very own blog.

First, our visual evaluation engages in the straightforward reading of the image. We derive no particular pleasure per se at this point, merely decoding the two-dimensional representation, shapes, lines, colours. As we make sense of the image – achieved on a submliminal level, far too rapidly for consciousness to be self-aware – we decode the elements into constituent parts: a road, railings, a white van, buildings; blurs in the top right are taken to be oncoming cars in the distance, the perspective trick of the vanishing point taken for granted; and finally, obscure although central to the image, the dominating element, a railing in close-up, to which is attached a pair of silver-coloured handcuffs.

The pavement, the road and railing fill the frame, with the handcuffs centre. The close-up of the railing in the picture against the steep perpective of the road gives the image dynamism, with the railings on the left and the road on the right arrowing the focal point towards the single body in the image, a dark, hooded figure, who seems to be crossing the road in front of the white van. The traffic lights are red, as are the rear lights of the van, and the contrast between red, white and black give the only notes of chromatic drama to the image, drawing attention to this otherwise small human detail.

Generally the colours consist of urban greys, pinks and browns; this is not an expressionist image. The image is slightly washed out, as if produced by a cheap camera phone – so, it has a casualness about it, the authenticity of a snap. This is no set up.

The daylight seems to be the kind of unremarkable, overcast weather which occurs frequently in coastal districts or estuaries; and the traffic furniture, and the left-driving vehicles show that unmistakably this is England. Clues as to exact location are given by the only clearly visible architecture. Top left of the picture, a brown-ish corner building, with some first story pillars, and top centre-right of the picture, a distant tower block with a distinctive shape. Examination of urban records shows that this is indeed, as the title implies, the Holloway Road, Islington, London, looking south towards the London Metropolitan University, with Waitrose supermarket (part of the John Lewis group) on the left.

Returning to the central image, the handcuffs and the railing: the railing itself is painted black, but with paint chipped and worn. One senses the passing of many hands upon this unobserved object in the middle of a busy urban road. There is a thin trickle of silver paint which has flowed downwards across the black, passing underneath the handcuff, and so there is ambiguity here; was the railing first black, then silver? Is this silver paint bad workmanship, or an unofficial addition to the local authority maintenance?

The liquid movement which the dripping paint implies is in fact crucial to our reading and interpretation of the image. This railing has a history, which pre-dates the recent history, during which time someone has attached the handcuffs. Handcuffs are intimately connected with human activity, authority, constriction, pain, pleasure, mischief, and the ancient wetness reminds us of human liquidity, blood, sweat, semen.

As to the central meaning and drama of the image, the questions which it asks: what narrative do we read here? What fate befell the handcuffed, to be so contrained, held for a time, in the middle of this constantly moving river of metal? Was this a deliberate act, or an accident? Was there a stag night, an impending marriage, did a group of drunken friends play a trick upon a groom-to-be? Was this the result of a dispute, revenge, or a part of some exhibitionist love play?

The railing’s hand-sized round knob stands out against the pink tinge of the paving stones, the handcuff neatly fastened around its narrow steel neck. The fit is perfect. The second cuff disappears beneath the horizontal pole. In this image there is something Indian, the unexpected appearance of the lingam, encircled by the female principle, which tends the interpretation towards sex. Rising up from the circle of the railing’s dome, the pole of the traffic light behind, with the symbols for no left turn, no U turn, now seeming to imply more than mere instructions for drivers. Is this to be our own fate, handcuffed to the city? Or should we dwell on the release in the image, the safety, humiliation and danger now escaped?

This is an image about human frailty, full of clues, hidden tensions, and sexual frisson.

“In the face of persistently evaluating music, how is it possible to truly enjoy that which measures up?” Simple answer. Dance. Move. Let your body feel the music.

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This thing has 3 Comments

  1. Indigobusiness
    Posted 30 December, 2007 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    The question was innocent enough, one which persistently arose in art school, now I feel I’ve been horsewhipped over it.

    See all the trouble you could’ve saved us, had you taken my advice and attached yourself to those handcuffs?

  2. Deek Deekster
    Posted 30 December, 2007 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    fear not the whipper snapper for it is a tasty fish

  3. Twit
    Posted 14 January, 2008 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    It was a mind-blowingly dumb question in the first place.

    Get a job, Aristotle.

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