Palinopsia / After Image

Palimpsestic connections between the passing of time and the inevitability of death.

“An exploration of the tension between permanence and impermanence.”
– “Death and time were always in alliance.” – John Berger (1984).

Palinopsia / After Image


In Palinopsia / After Image, I am making reference to both a performed installation piece and the online adaptation of this time related concept. Palinopsia (Palin > again + ōps > eye) is defined as a visual disorder in which the patient perceives a prolonged afterimage.  In a pathological sense the after-image is seen as a disorder, but philosophically and in this work, the after-image refers to memory, remembering to what we lost. Alluding to the connection that photography has with death, the artist Christian Boltanski said: "Photos are always linked to the idea of death. You preserve a moment, but as soon the photo is taken, the moment is over."- ‘Les vies possibles de Christian Boltanski - PARTE 2’ (The possible lives of Christian Boltanski)

In the ‘off-line’ installation piece a purplish-blue UV laser projects monochromatic images on a large fully covered glow-in-the-dark canvas. The photo-like visual elements appear line-by-line and continue to persist for some time. The phosphorescent projection surface in a way records or memorises the images until the visual eventually dissipates much like a reversed Polaroid. After some time, or by choice immediately, a new image can be over-projected, creating a newly layered assemblage.

The installation is the practical component of my MA in Fine Art with a thesis titled: Palinopsia: Images at their Ends: A Practice-based study in Traces, Temporality and Image Dissipation, using Glow In The Dark Laser Technology as a Medium for Contemporary Art. The notion of present and past, trace and decay, memory and death, and the impossibility to observe time are central concepts in both works. Underscoring soundscapes create a dialogue with the projected fading images, echoing these temporal properties.

In the online work, the photos are certain to dissipate, this is in contrast to the usual conservation principle and fetishising of photos. It holds the essence of the intriguing property that photography can hold time still and allows for contemplation when time becomes stationary. There is a still moment, ... glassy, contemplative until the inevitable fade-out. In the work the shadows, mid-tones and highlights appear after each other and are individually introduced by a single musical note. When the image is complete it fades into the background. The portraits that are used are choices of manipulated images of people that have lost their lives and were close to the maker.

The work intercedes between two established art-forms: photography and cinema. It is a category of image-making that lies between an accelerated decaying form of photography (emulsion photographs that are processed in a traditional developer/fixative process are known to disappear after a hundred years) and ultra-slow cinema (here each frame stands for minutes).

The making of the installation piece was interesting for me because of both the captivating end-result and the process of its development. I did not have the material to make the work at hand: the expensive laser equipment. It can be compared to a painting process without having paint or composing music without an instrument. Consequently, the making process required imagination.

My reflections on the production processes and properties of the installation work encouraged me to try and conceptualise the online version Palinopsia/ After Image by digitally recreating the tension between permanence an and impermanence. This presented various challenges. To suit the web-based medium and the software programming I was pressed to rethink the presentation and the user experience for an online audience. There was a need for a very different approach from the traditional art-development-process to which I was familiar. The original idea required a new treatment in order to evolve from an offline to an online iteration and presentation. The ephemeral traits of the fading visuals conceptually paved the way how this transient work could work and at some point desired the inclusion of the also decaying [attack][sustain][release] auditory properties of a the supporting soundscape which inherently have a relationship with impermanence. ‘Opening the Gates’ was defying the familiar comfort zones that are present in ones methods of producing, changing the making-method and innovating ones art practice.

My aim was to create a simple and clear online graphic work that resonated the impalpable palimpsestic connections that we have with the passing of time and the inevitability of death. These are the unavoidable truths of our timed existence and are perhaps the very impossible aspects of life to really comprehend and come to terms with.

Launch Project





St. Augustine, (354 AD - 430 AD) stated the following in relation to the understanding of time: "What is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is; but if someone asks and I must explain, I no longer know what it is." - The Art of Time - Jean-Louis Servan Schreiber (1988)

“The body ages. The body is preparing to die. Death and time were always in alliance.” - And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, John Berger (1984)