(essay written for the solo show O último brilho da estrela que morre [The last gleam of a dying star] at Uma Lulik_ Contemporary Art Gallery, Lisbon, Portugal)

Like no other phenomenon, photography has made us both deeply aware of our mortality and inebriated with the possibility of overcoming it. Although we had the means to create images before the invention of the photographic technique, it is undeniable that the scarcity and limited circulation of prephotographic images contributed to associate them with a system of devotion and with a utilitarian function that has very little to do with the role photography plays in the biographic-sentimental economy of contemporaneity. The main objective of the prephotographic image was to assert the power of those it represented, to uphold and disseminate their narratives and ideologies — a task that transformed those images into tools for persuasion, liturgy and social idolatry. In this sense, they were essentially political. The domestication of image will only happen with the rise of photography and with the propagation and democratization that it inherently promotes. To a certain extent, photography gave us the opportunity to privatize image, assuring it had a predominant role in the construction of our personal identities while transforming it into a widely accepted currency for symbolic exchanges within our communities, starting with our own families.


Maybe that’s why the neologism “biographeme” suits photography so well, even today. Coined by the French intellectual Roland Barthes in the early 1970s, this term emphasizes the fragmentary nature of photography (photography is always a part, never a whole) and the fact that it is always halfway between reality and fiction: between the reality it portrays, and the fiction its fragmentary nature inspires. When someone salvages negatives and photo albums from evited homes, much like AnaMary Bilbao has been doing for the last three years, they end up with a peculiar collection of biographemes on their hands — indexes of a reality they have not lived, but that has been used to weave the factual, sentimental and relational biography of some Other. As such, these images were the instances that activated emotions, the elements that triggered the affective memory that allowed that Other to retrieve, invoke and, in a sense, extend the presence of a particular event, of a late family member, perhaps even of a previous version of themselves, into the present — essaying the hypothetical overcoming of death we mentioned earlier. To choose to erase,  to scrape or deface the visual residue that lingers on the surface of photographic prints or in the transparency of negative film, is something akin to forever undoing the knot which photography ties in the line of Time; it implies an emaciation of History, to deny it one of its favourite tools and to state, at each incision, the absolute transience of everything that surrounds us and the inevitable loss of everything we ever were.


It is possible then, that we are looking upon a selection of images — made into drawings — that rise to the paradoxical condition of inscriptions of erasure. Their aim, however, doesn’t seem to be restricted to the speeding up of a natural process of erosion; their greatest virtue, it seems, arises from the fact that they bring that forced erosion to a halt at the precise moment in which it becomes productive. In O último brilho da estrela que morre [The last gleam of a dying star], AnaMary Bilbao forces the hand of Time, hastening its tragic violence. Each groove on the found image is a double gesture of erasure and creation: as the biographeme becomes less conspicuous, the more the freedom of the viewer’s imagination grows; the more his irrepressible scopic drive is left craving, the more his infatuation is stirred by a mechanics of suggestion. In the decaying space of the defaced image, there are no answers for the spectator, no comfort nor memory — only mirrors and ghosts in the perfect place of all projections.

Bruno Marchand, Dec. 2018
Translated by José Roseira

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