[ Part I ]
The flickering of likeness produced by Black Maria is connected to its mobility. It does not retain a single, clearly marked likeness, because of its capacity for transformation. There are three forms of mobility which we must notice in order to understand Black Maria‘s instability and variability.
The first is the mobility of the viewer. This is common to spatial works. The viewer is not fixed in place, as is predominantly the case with pictures. This is why architecture posseses a greater degree of variability than a picture. The viewer is able to vary range and angle from the object, changing its relationship to the background, and adjusting how it is percieved: from prison wagon to wolf and on to something else.
Black Maria, however, has a capacity for transformation even when the viewer remains stationary. It has positional variability. Something that rides on wheels is not sited somewhere, it is parked. Although it sits in a Japanese park this morning, this afternoon you might find it around the corner on your way to work, or in the trees on the way to Grandma’s house. Black Maria is not positionally stable. It can be taken somewhere else and reparked. In this way the figure-ground relationship can be modified, and the likeness correspondingly: would Black Maria be a wolf if it was not for the forest it sits in?
The third form of mobility in Black Maria is its reconfigurability. This is the mobility of the hinge. The hinge produces variability. However, it also produces constraint. Various likenesses can be produced as Black Maria is reconfigured; but the relationship between the two parts is fixed. The two parts cannot be stacked one on top of the other; nor can they be placed at a distance from one another. Their relaltionship is fixed – parameterised – by the hinge. There is a radius of possible positions for each part. The hinge separates and joins. It is an interval at the centre of Black Maria; the point on which it turns. It is where the transformation of likeness is not entirely in the hands of the viewer.
The deconstructive concept of free play has been badly understood by some to mean (false and yet somehow a truism) that anything can mean anything. If it were possible to conceive of a variability without constraint, likeness would become so generalised as to lose the ability to signify. Umberto Eco writes, “A similarity or an analogy, whatever its epistemological status, is important if it is exceptional, at least under a certain description. An analogy between Achilles and a clock based on the fact that both are physical objects is of no interest whatsoever” (Interpretation and Overinterpretation, 1992, 63).
Equally important for the play of significance in Black Maria is that it fails. It fails to hold a single consistent likeness, without having the good manners to refrain from any likeness at all. It does not fail to correspond; but it fails to correspond in a stable way.
[ Part III ]
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