Lament of the Images 2002 is an installation by the Chilean-born, New York-based artist Alfredo Jaar consisting of two table-like aluminium structures that are displayed in a darkened room. Each of the units contains a white, semi-opaque plastic lightbox from which constantly radiates the light of twenty neon bulbs. One of the structures is ceiling-mounted and suspended upside down, directly above the other one, which stands on the floor below, mirroring it precisely. The hanging table structure is steadily lowered by a motor and four cables towards its stationary counterpart, so that the two light sources eventually meet – a process that takes around one minute. The moment of their convergence is preceded by the flashing of a thin sliver of light between the two, before the display space is thrown into darkness for an interval of approximately six minutes. This procedure is subsequently reversed when the motorised table begins to rise, the artificial light gradually illuminating the gallery once more. The motorised component of the installation operates on a loop, and the viewer may walk into the gallery space to experience the work at any point.
This work is the second version of an installation, also titled Lament of the Images, that Jaar created in 2002. The first version was initially shown at Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany, in June 2002, and was produced in two editions that are owned by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. In the first version of the installation, visitors walk through a darkened corridor containing three illuminated texts referencing the governmental or market control of images in South Africa, the United States and Afghanistan. They then enter a room containing a large screen from which emanates a powerful light. Tate’s version of Lament of the Images was first shown at Galerie Lelong in New York later in 2002, alongside the slightly earlier variant of the installation.
Jaar has described the Lament of the Images installations as metaphors for the blindness of a contemporary society bombarded with images, stating in 2002 that ‘I believe that we have lost the ability to see and be moved by images’ (Jaar in Binder and Haupt 2002, accessed 14 February 2014). Jaar has also explained that the works address the ways in which the sheer number of images available means that their circulation ‘has never before been so controlled, be it by the government or by a certain part of the private sector’ (Jaar in Binder and Haupt 2002, accessed 14 February 2014). The title Lament of the Images refers to a poem of the same name by the Nigerian author Ben Okri in which ritual masks and icons are burned and thereby divested of their power (see ‘Lament of the Images’, in Ben Okri, An African Elegy, London 1992, pp.9–13). Okri’s poem was first invoked by Jaar for the exhibition Alfredo Jaar: Lament of the Images at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in Massachusetts in 1998, which displayed work from Jaar’s The Rwanda Project, 1994–2000. For this project, the artist used photograph-based installations to engage with media representations of the Rwandan genocide.
The ideas of loss or destruction that the title Lament of the Images suggests may hold a different resonance for the Tate installation than these other works by Jaar: for instance, cultural loss could be indicated by the fact that the table-like structures, which might be compared to illuminated museum display cabinets, contain no objects or images for the viewer to see. In discussion with the philosopher Simon Critchley in 2011, Jaar outlined some of the ideas behind this work:
Images are important. Very important. In creating this work, I was trying to lament their loss, mourn their absence. In doing so, I ended up creating a new image, which is unavoidable. An image of an intense, blinding light that could possibly become the blank screen on which we project our fears and our dreams.
(Jaar in Morris 2011, accessed 10 February 2014.)
Often critiquing the role of images in contemporary society, Jaar’s practice has encompassed film-making, photography, performance and architecture as well as installation. As the curator Madeleine Grynsztejn has argued, works such as Lament of the Images ‘underline the inefficacy of images, their ability to never encompass the full meaning of an event’ (Madeleine Grynsztejn, ‘Foreword’, in Alfredo Jaar: Venezia, Venezia, exhibition catalogue, Venice Biennale, Pavilion of Chile, New York 2013, p.17).
Pat Binder and Gerhard Haupt, ‘Alfredo Jaar: Interview, Details’, trans. by Holly Austin, Universes in Universe, 2002, http://universes-in-universe.de/car/documenta/11/frid/e-jaar-2.htm, accessed 14 February 2014.
Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘Lament of the Images: Alfredo Jaar and the Ethics of Representation’, Aperture, no.181, Winter 2005, pp.36–47.
David Morris, ‘Between Baudrillard and the Cave: Alfredo Jaar and Simon Critchley in Conversation’, Mute, 27 April 2011, http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/between-baudrillard-and-cave-alfredo-jaar-and-simon-critchley-conversation, accessed 10 February 2014.
Supported by Christie’s.