• by Liat Lavi, 2011

Photographer Ilit Azoulay is preoccupied with questions pertaining to perception and its normative grounds, as well as to the role objects play in the formation of a world. In her recent works she challenges the subordination of the order of things to the control of the human mind. She uses various forms of placement, displacement and entanglement to form visual worlds or archives from objects she collects and manipulates.

“To see is to enter a universe of beings which display themselves, and they would not do this if they could not be hidden behind each other or behind me. In other words: to look at an object is to inhabit it, and from this habitation to grasp all things in terms of the aspect which they present to it.” (Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1962)

Azoulay fabricates spaces in which objects reign, and from which man is cast out. These worlds subtly lay an alternative set of rules that defies both logical and perspectival constraints dictated by the human mind and the human gaze (later to be mimicked by the camera’s mechanism). 

The multitude of objects and their composition, as well as Azoulay’s manipulation of light and shadow, bewilder the eye. The works lack a vanishing point, and do not obey the laws of focus.  They offer no division to center and periphery and thus do not allow the viewer to gain a cognitive apprehension of the image as a whole. In this manner, the gaze is discharged from its innate capacities of controlling the world by means of setting order and hierarchy. Man mostly appears in the works in the form of pictures and reflections, which in turn are set as objects, cut out, folded or framed. Their shadow is exaggerated, revealing their object-nature. Their eyes are often blurred and their gaze is diverted; it is interrupted and confined to the boundaries of the image, in which they are held captive. 

Especially in the larger works, the form of organization (their two-dimensionality, their wide format and the placing of objects one next to the other) brings to mind semantic syntaxes. Yet these syntaxes are devoid of fixed meaning, they are dynamic in that their means of deciphering are evasive and constantly shifting. Many of the objects Azoulay uses are awkward, their function is unclear, and so they are liberated in two senses. They display autonomy in not being directly assigned to human needs and functions; they do not give away their raison d’être. They are also freed from the dominance of the interpreter in that they do not give in to symbolism. They are realistic depictions, but at the same time they manage to remain abstract.

“The Archontic Power, which also gathers the functions of unification, of identification, of classification, must be paired with what we call the power of consignation. By consignation we
do not only mean, in the ordinary sense of the word, the act of assigning residence or of entrusting so as to put into reserve (to consign, to deposit), in a place and on a substrate, but here the act of consigning through gathering together signs... Consignation aims to coordinate a single corpus, in a system or a synchrony in which all the elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration. In an archive, there should not be any absolute dissociation, any heterogeneity or secret which could separate (secernere), or partition, in an absolute manner. The archontic principle of the archive is also a principle of consignation, that is, of gathering together.” (Derrida, Archive Fever, 1995)

The idea of consignation as described by Derrida in his seminal Archive Fever may serve to shed light on another feature of the works. The works supposedly subordinate themselves to an archival structure, gathering signs and placing them one next to the other, yet they rebel against the all encompassing power of the archive. The signs-objects are empty, carrying but traces of meaning, and they defy the possibility of a unifying order, thus inhabiting the archive with secrets, subverting its organizing function. Azoulay’s works are not reconstructions of past worlds, they do not document or preserve. Unlike an archaeologist who aims at reconstructing an actual world, a habitat, a form of life, from the remains of past cultures, Azoulay creates chimerical worlds from the residue of present time.