Deodatus, to whom for the second time someone had attributed the name of M. Haberland, someone who, according to what he now understood, must be a painter, could not prevent the shiver that passed through him. But this slight frisson became terror itself when, before he could reply to the man who had just spoken to him, he found himself assaulted by a young man in travelling dress, who hugged him to his heart crying out loud: Haberland… my dear, my good George… at last I find you again!… Deodatus returned the embrace as if in effect he was this painter George Haberland, so long sought and waited for. E T A Hoffmann, Derniers contes, p.208, Paris, 1983(my tr)
It’s easy to imagine Imker, who is or are a painter, getting into such a situation. I approach him in the street or in some gallery, ‘Ah, my dear friend Imker, it’s you, I just saw your exhibition, so interesting my dear friend, such a development from your previous show too, such a character… the fried egg has a centripetal energy that disconcerts me altogether…’
I approach her in the street or in some gallery, ‘Ah, my dear friend Imker, it’s you, I just saw your exhibition, so interesting my dear friend, such a development from your previous show too, such a character…the fried egg has a centripetal energy that disconcerts me altogether…’ I approach them both in the street or in some gallery, ‘Ah, my dear friend Imker, it’s you, I just saw your exhibition, so interesting my dear friend[s], such a development from your previous show too, such a character… the fried egg has a centripetal energy that disconcerts me altogether…’ In the first two cases I am puzzled, but stay fluent and wordly in my address. As it happens, while I don’t know him very well, I do know him much better than I know her, and we have a certain complicity between us. As I speak, we embrace warmly, the way we do in the hurry of big cities, as if we were each other’s long-lost ally and companion, and might not see each other again until the flow permits. If I sense a slight perplexity, it’s only because I wonder what I will say to her when we in turn cross each other’s path. So I decide to say exactly the same, ‘Ah, my dear friend Imker, it’s you, I just saw your exhibition, so interesting my dear friend, such a development from your previous show too, such a character… the fried egg has a centripetal energy that disconcerts me altogether…’, but when I do so, it sounds quite different. More reserved, for I hardly know her at all, we have met but once. The words are accompanied by a warm but modest brushing of my palm across her elbow, leaning back from the gesture so I don’t invade her space. How different she looks from him, I think, quite stupidly. Of course she does. It’s obvious, but this very obviousness mines my assurance, and the pleasing phrase faulters, falls away, as if I don’t quite mean what it is I’m saying, as if I’m just trying to say the right thing for the sake of form. I see that in her eyes as she reacts with civility, stemming the provisional enthusiasm of our encounter. And then, another day, I see them both together. I apply the rule I have set myself in my dealings with Imker, to treat him and her with absolute equality, but it’s with a failing spirit that I utter it once again, ‘Ah, my dear friend Imker, it’s you, I just saw your exhibition, so interesting my dear friend[s], such a development from your previous show too, such a character… the fried egg has a centripetal energy that disconcerts me altogether…’ As my eyes flit from one face to another, my tongue faulters around the [s] as I try, somehow, to pronounce the bracket, to outline it with a gesture of my hands that doesn’t work. It’s a blunder. Now I’m sure they think me mad. I know very well that the egg can’t mean quite the same thing for both of them, that the fennel in it’s Italian slang for ‘dick’ will have a different space in each one of their gazes, especially in its linking with the softly pink and purple fungus. Fennel with fungus, a pasta recipe straight from Elisabeth David’s middle class utopia of the 1960s, which the paintings manage to evoke; or an urgent visit to the clinic, which they don’t. They talk to each other, Imker do[es], I wonder what they know. I know that while one will have proposed an image, the other may well have set about editing it on the canvas; and that, in the four paintings which make up the series of the Missing Bacon… neither might have laid down even a layer of the same thing on the surfaces, whose quite startling simplicity belies collaboration, competition or collusion. The fact of the matter is, that is just what I do think… ‘the fried egg has a centripetal energy that disconcerts me altogether’…, it spins, expanding and contracting out of shape; it invades the space of the edged out slice of toast, pocked, black-bruised and discomforted before its celestial progress. Imker doesn’t add up to a family scene, and if there are no overt signs of warfare in the paint, meaning takes quite a battering. I’d like to tell Imker that I counted those baked beans, and that as I did so I thought about Larry Poons, at the point when his discs started slipping from their grid-lines and generating random energies is the visual field. But that too they might find obvious; Imker has so many years between them in the practice of their art, so many visits to galleries and museums, so many books read and paintings seen, that this also s/he might just know. The beans too have an abstract energy, dancing before their toast, so that it’s hard to think of Heinz, even if to do so would make more sense than Poons, and anchor me to the world of things Imker seems to represent. The beans defy the egg, in their fond and frenzied precipitation to the surface that is their destiny. I begin to think that the paintings are ‘about’ the conflicts of making a surface, an allegorical alibi for the difficulty of Imker’s being. I suspect the egg’s energies and the agitation of the beans is a formal equivalence for Imker’s vertigo, an investment of some polymorphous subjecthhood the the maquerade of banal signs, a sinister carnival. I must be crazy. They know I am. They knew as much when I tried to greet them in the street. And then if I say to her, of those other slices of toast, floating and erect beneath another sky-born egg or a veiled moon in a midnight sky. ‘they have a very special majesty’…, which as it happens, I think they do; if I insist, ‘They resemble your great, almost empty, paint-laden squares of colour in your own painting, (I might now risk ‘my dear’)’…; and if she says, ‘oh he scribbled those mysterious scratches on them’… , where then will I stand? Trapped again, trapped by myself, in looking for the author in this work. I wonder whose dizziness it is, that arises in such simple puzzles. It’s oddly comforting, then, to suggest that the subject, you or I, was always something of a lie. René Descartes, despite himself, allowed for as much in in arguing that we must imagine the existence of that evil genius who deceives us in(to) our apparently irreducible certainty of the self. While, three centuries later, in Jacques Lacan’s mirror, with all it’s radical unthinking of the Cartesian subject, there’s still a reflection there of Descartes doubt; of certain doubt and error as the founding certainty for Lacan’s principle that the subject is an effect of, or a relation to an object or a being, but not in itself a person, nor a thing. I’m not the first or only fool to look into an image and think I see a subject there. But if the subject is a lie, a lie we tell ourselves to articulate the fragile agency of our being, speaking, writing, painting, what then is the author? What is the author if it is nothing but the delimitation of a gap, the marker of a space without form, an absence? It’s not quite a contradiction in terms, but nearer to that other contradiction of certainty and waking reason that we call the joke. In the comic scenario of misrecognition, Hoffmann’s Deodatus feels a chill, for after all, if he is not who he is, who are they who find him thus? The chill is like a laugh, it sets apart, in mysterious visibility, an understanding that goes beyond the frame. Is Imker a joke or a lie? Or, more to the point, is it ‘they’ that are either of these or is it ‘it’ that might be? Two things, then. Because we believe in the author, and this despite all our best knowledge of the fragility and the facticity of the human subject, an author whose marks confound authorial presence must either be joking or at the very best befuddling what(ever) it is that word designates. And, in this case, Imker, the joke or the lie will lie in the pronoun itself, a joke that makes us use the pronoun untruly, settling perhaps for the clumsy neuter, the ungrammatical ‘it’, which might anyway be the proper gender for the combination of two family names. Imker has no first name, and this too is unsatisfactory for an author, nor yet is it a collective. ‘Is Imker a good friend of yours, my friend?’ ‘Oh yes it is, I’ve known it ever since I can remember, such a sensitive and kindly artist.’ Imker forces such a wedge between the presence and the sense of authorship, and friendship too, a nonsense into our daily speech, our breakfast, so to speak. So I would like to say that Imker is a joke, and leave it there, a joke that makes us, despite ourselves, but knowingly, tell a lie, when we say ‘…of course, dear Imker, I know it well.’ Imker is a joke and a lie, and certainly not a hybrid, and least of all a pseudonym or a heteronym, as it is these paintings’ author’s name. Is there a name which is the name of neither, rather than of either or of both? That too would be a joke, unless the work itself were hybrid, a mortal introversion that wears the traces of two unlikes in its own ineficacy. Which too, when we look at these works, is clearly not the case. The paintings work. I know one work of figuration that helps me here, to sustain these images in my sight. It’s the dystopian, future-fiction film Gattaca(1997) which suggests something of how we might approach the work of Imker, this non-hybrid combination of two separate beings in their closeness, conversations, gestures, marks and surface making. And the actual, here and now dystopian equivalent of Gattaca might be thought of as the London artworld of today in all its dizzying superfetation of artistic personalities, each submitted to a certain confining rule of singularity and the command to be oneself in the genetic ideality of the metropolis’s myth. In the future world of Gattaca, the name for a universal, all embracing corporation that relegates 1984 or Brave New World to the birth pangs of national capitalism, success in life, immense success, is determined by genetic pre-selection, – wise parents designing the ideal outcome for their child out of the limits of their own potential imperfection. If success is exclusively the reward of mental and physical attributes without a flaw, then two men, one born imperfect from an ill-judged ‘act of love’, one fallen from perfection through physical disaster, come together to fake themselves a viable survival in this world of hostile purity. The injured one passes on his physical signifyers, urine and blood samples for example, while the flawed one effaces his, scraping away loose skin and cells that can be recognised by sensors, until between them they produce a fake that is neither of them. A fake that can pass into a world where he has no place, while the one who has lost his place destroys himself entirely. Imagine that either might change role in this sexless generation of a third trace-being which is neither, and which effaces both as some kind of whole, then Imker’s strange surfaces begin to find a name. A name which is not just Imker, but not something else as well. Not (quite) an author. Not (quite) a painter of London’s frenzied markets. Not (quite) him nor her, but a makeshift shedding or acretion, the subject as a kind of lie, a means of passing. Yet Saint Augustine warns us about the peril of all lies, not least those that we try to tell for our own or some else’s higher good; next time I see Imker, I think I’ll pass on by. Perhaps no more than a light salutation with my hand, distant, as I carry on up Shoreditch.