Lúa OcañaUntitled selections from Don’t break series (2011)

One of Nietzsche’s most oft quoted aphorisms comes from Beyond Good and Evil:

Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum
Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der
Abgrund auch in dich hinein. [He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does
not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss
also gazes into you.]

It’s the second bit about gazing into the abyss which seems to me to be applicable to Ocaña’s photos.

This was the first image of hers I stumbled upon.

The photo on the left reminds me of the stuff Sally Mann was doing between Deep South and Proud Flesh–too dark to determine whether its twilight pastoral or turgid nightmare.

Yet paired with the second photo of a bloody finger–which might have been taken by any number of internet famous photographers–any sense of sinister menace resolves into something closer to the slow ache of an unrequited longing; as if the beauty as well as desperation of existing in a desolate space transform one into something that mirrors similar beauty entwined with desperation.

Ocaña is doing revelatory work in exploring the interplay of images. (I especially admire the way she’s employing text, mixing B&W and color–something I’ve struggled with how to pull off in my own work–and so openly demonstrating her process.

But here we should return to the images with which this post opens from the series Don’t break.

My Spanish is godawful but here’s what I’ve got as far as an ultra literal translation of the artist statement:

This project is about delicate-ness; where absence, the unattainable and loneliness form the central conceptions. Nudity is de-emphasized and employed as a means of establishing an intimate, relateable frame for the work.

Each photo/diptch presents an anonymous protagonist. The relationship between photos morphs across the series and establishes a larger context given the work taken as a whole.

Assuming I got even a fraction of that right, I would deem the work highly successful.

However, heading back now in the direction of the quote with which I opened this post: I read this article recently in the NYTimes about a newly discovered ‘music center’ in the brain. I was fascinated and appalled in equal measure.

See: I’m a disciple of Wittgenstein. And one of the most salient facets of Wittgenstein’s work is the notion that contrary to the accepted Cartesian model, meaning does not derive from internal mental processes. As W. puts it: if every time I understand how to solve a problem I experience a white flash as if a light bulb is suddenly illuminated above my own head, the white flash is not ‘understanding’. I am justified in saying I understand only when I am able to correctly solve the problem.

Thus, if we say that music activates a certain area of the brain that language and aleatoric sound do not–how much further is it to test if something is music or not by strapping someone into an MRI and playing them a sample and then judging by how they react deeming music or not?

One of the great sadnesses of my life is that I possess no talent for playing music–although I am more sensitive to music than any other form of art. (I’ve gotten higher off songs than I’ve ever managed with any illicit substance.) To me there’s something musical about walking through a snowy forest with no one around for miles and you can actually hear real silence for once or the way the calack-calack of trains always ends with a half-measure rest instead of the expected completion of the rhythmic expectation. Hell, right now I’m listening to Tim Hecker

Is what Ocaña does photography or collage. I’d argue it’s both. And to me that both is incredibly important.

Imagine I’m standing listening to you tell a story. You’re back is to the ocean and I’m facing you. We’re standing on a hill and the sun falling toward the ocean. And then something between your story and the orange-mauve color of the sky sets my brain on fire. I point and you turn and look. Either you’ll see it or you won’t. By the time I find the words to indicate that to which I am pointing, it’s spell on me will have ended. But by pointing there is a chance that you might catch the tail end of the same spell. That I might share it with you. That you might know too.

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