Leaving Traces: Surface Contact in Ponge, Penone and Alÿs

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This article considers surface contact in the poetry of Francis Ponge and the work of two artists, Giuseppe Penone and Francis Alÿs, in relation to aspects of recent French philosophy and phenomenology. Ponge, Penone and Alÿs are all interested in the surface of things as the site of a coming to form, where human consciousness intervenes to divide matter up into objects. Each, in his different way, is drawn to the borderline between objects which can be identified, categorised and understood, and things which just are. Ponge's poetry sets out to encounter the thing in its thing-ness, but always ends up making it signify. Penone's endless examination of the leaving of traces offers another form of phenomenological encounter that explores human intervention in the world of things, whereas Alÿs's work often entails the failure to leave a trace. Through an exploration of the relation between surface and depth, and between signification and ‘mere’ being in the works of these three figures, the author explores how the ‘contact image’ might offer us a way of thinking about our position in relation to the being of things. It will be argued that a genealogy within French thought, from Sartre through Derrida to Jean-Luc Nancy, is shadowed in poetry and particularly in visual art, which, through the contact-image, offers us a particularly telling figure of the relationship between being and meaning.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-104
Number of pages13
JournalWord and Image
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2013


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