Daniel Senise

Crossings and other destinies: Painting as Residue

Flávia Corpas

Published in Quase Aqui: Daniel Senise, Associação para o Patronato Contemporâneo, São Paulo, Brazil, 2018

“Painting runs through me.” l’m not sure I have heard Daniel Senise say this, but then Ido not doubt that he may have said so. Ali his works, including installations and objects, are off­shoots of painting and the issues that painting poses for him, even when his works have ma­terialized on different supports. I would say, therefore, that painting does go through him. However, I do recall -and Iam quite sure of this- that in relation to Sansão [Samson], a work shown in Parque Lage in 1984, he used the term “installation based on painting”, not just because Sansão was a painting too, but because the painting gave rise to an instal­lation. Even if this was one of the first pieces he produced, it conveyed what Senise has been exploring as an artist: the vicissitudes of painting. 

His 2892 installation was set up at Casa França-Brasil in 2011 with bed sheets taken from mote Is and hospitais and hung ali along the main gallery. Senise once described this work as consisting of ‘residues on fabric’. Art may be viewed as an operation involving the residue, as one might inter from reading propositions ventured by theorists such as Hal Foster or Georges Didi-Huberman, or the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, to whom both of these authors referred. 

One might ponder the residue by way of the imaginary, stabilized sense, its thematic char­acter or its meaning in a work. However, this is not the point here. Senise goes further with his work appropriating the residue for itself, making it part of itself. This residue that the artist somehow gathers is also an excess. There is excess in life, in worldly things, in studio floors that, once imprinted on fabric, inscribe the marks of what has remained of space and time, while composing and color­ing several of Senise’s paintings such as the series named BiógrafoReino and Prodrome. There is excess on the working tables, and the artist’s intervention in the course of everyday use is transfigured by a new concep­tual and material interference, giving rise to a work that is Quase aquimas não ainda [Almost here, but not yet]. Not yet the real, which the white-painted square in the middle cease­lessly tries to fill but fails to succeed. There is something else to a painting removed from a wall after hanging there for many years, leav­ing marks. Perhaps this vestige is associated with the event that precipitated the painting’s removal-the death of the mother and the dis­mantling of her home, for instance-, but that on. revealing its emptiness becomes a photo­graph, subject matter or inspiration for future work. Finally, there is excess in residues of people’s cutout silhouettes, the refining of a street-artist’s facture, which Senise collects with the intention, yet to be carried out, of someday finding a place for them somewhere in impossible representation. A residue that is excess, and thus one too many. An excess that is posed as a void, to be thought of not as merely nothing, but in its topological sense, as a hole. Art, and specifically painting, is organized around the void, as per Jacques Lacan’s premise noted in Seminar 7: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis. Thinking this void as a hole, something that is found in the course of Lacan’s teaching, we could assume that art is done around a hole, since the very facture of a work engenders the hole in the language field. These are paths proposed by the French psychoanalyst, in the course of his seminars, along which art and psychoanalysis keep their dialogues alive. Furthermore, in the case of the latter, dialogue is part of its origin. The entire problematics of ‘residue’ may also be exam ined on the basis of the representa­tion issue, which is so dear to art and paint­ing. Here I am thinking of both, traditional representation and its fraying, which lend the concept broader meaning, as Arthur Danto and Didi-Huberman suggested, each in his own specific way, or even by contesting said notion with what Jacques Ranciêre called “aesthetic regime”. ln any case, one thinks that the issue involving representation and image, 

whether or not these be figurative images, is that they do not lend themselves to embrace or fully grasp what is at stake in an artwork. Didi-Huberman proposes thinking the image as a Freudian tear, a process that opens repre­sentation. But, something escapes; there is a residue in this operation. There is a limit. 

ln La Pintura Encarnada | The lncarnated Painting, Didi-Huberman states that there’s a ghost in the painting, something he tackles through the notion of ‘incarnate’. lf ‘incarnate’ has any­thing to do with skin, flesh, and surface, then it is only in its unpredictable and indiscreet dialectic with depth. The author looks at the drama of Balzac’s character in The Unknown Masterpiece. The tale provides the leitmotiv that leads him to his reflection. Didi-Huber­man takes ‘incarnate’ from something beyond it, which the character already seems to dis­close, while he unwittingly reveals one more. The ‘incarnate’ then is understood as interval, fold structure, braided surface and depth that poses a dialectic of appearance (epiphasis) and disappearance (aphanisis). But, what ba­sis is there for this appearance and disappear­ance of motion in the image? 

The author then looks to Lacan to think the subject/object relationship and take a theo­retical corpus from psychoanalysis, a different field but surely a concern of his too, to then bring it into the universe of painting. Accord­ing to Didi-Huberman, the constitutive split subject that results from this relationship, as Lacan posits, is also what defines what he calls “the subject of painting.” As posed by psychoanalysis, a residue is extracted from the operation of instating the subject, which Lacan called object (little) a, the object-cause of desire taking the place of that which can­not be represented and, thus, being a kind of empty or hollowed surrogate for a represen­tation, rather than being one. Like the subject in the definition given by psychoanalysis, the “subject of painting” is seen intertwined in its relationship with this object. 

Residue, void, hole and object a are all terms used as a means of giving some outline to the non-representable aspect of our experience with the Other, with language. What is posed here is the fact that the subject, and the “sub­ject of painting” too, comes up against a limit and has to make do. Senise’s facture-includ­ing the different procedures and solutions he may find before the result materializes in a work-is a way of dealing with all this through the exercise of pushing the limit. This is also the paradigm from which art operates. As Didi-Huberman reminds us, precisely where 

the limit of painting and the incarnate as resi­due are announced, the paradigms with which painting actually operates are also shown. The residue dwells in Senise’s artistic pro­duction. His procedures and manipulations of leftovers are the basis for proposing this idea. 

I believe that Senise starts from the residue as limit and paradigm for his painting, to do painting, and it also guides the facture of his objects and installations, which have painting going through them, as we noted above. 

A standout feature of the story chosen by Didi-Huberman is that Frenhofer, the tor­mented painter and main character, noticed that something essential was missing from the painting of Porbus, another painter char­acter in the story. Something was missing, although Porbus’ work could be considered a masterpiece in his métier. What was missing was effect, blood, and life! There was a resi­due announced there. “The mission of art is not to copy Nature, but to express it. You are not a servile copyist, but a poet!” an agitated Frenhofer exclaimed. While the opposition between copying and expressing, or scribe and poet, leads us on to the much discussed question of representation, this does not mean it has thus been exhausted ar even cir­cumscribed to the problematic of painting in modernity. Didi-Huberman reminds us that all this is an “infernal question” that will give us no break. As intensely discussed as it is old, this problematic is inherent to painting and long lasting. 

ln our own time, then, how are we to interpret Frenhofer’s exclamation? By looking at the is­sues raised by the tale, questions that perme­ate the entire history of painting, Didi-Huber­man asks us to think the problematic of image and painting in the contemporary period. Ex­tracting from the writing the vicissitudes of the subject/object relationship, the author ad­dresses the instigating question of the gaze, as evoked by Merleau-Ponty and Lacan, whose central thesis could be summed up in the title of another book of his, also on this sarne re­flection, “what we see, what looks at us.” What we see in the painting actually looks at us. AII this is the subversion of the subject and, above all, the dialectic of desire that Didi-Huberman evokes here. 

Here Iam thinking of La pintura española, an ob­ject in which Senise refers to Velázquez’ Las Meninas and emphasizes the question of the gaze invoked by the latter. On looking into the small hole opened up by Senise in a robust publication, a book even if hung on a wall like a painting, we see our own gaze peering back at us through a mirror in the work. 

Something remains of the subject/object rela­tionship. An object that prompts desire. This is an insistent feature, both in art history and in the history of the work of certain painters. Didi-Huberman claims that the artist is divided between mediation, which aims to settle or re­solve a work, making it the ideal work to cap­ture the residue of the non-representable, and sharing, which perpetuates the split “subject of painting.” Hence the artist’s knowing would be knowing as doubting, or desiring, or at times as sundering. lt would operate by dividing be­tween mediation and sharing, which would yield several solutions. This does not mean that the artist can reach the ideal on the basis of what is known, since such knowledge is par­adoxically ‘knowing that one does not know.’ Yet, this “knowing that one does not know” is not something of which one is simply unaware. lt belongs to the order of the unconscious, which is not the unknown, but the unconscious structured as language, as Lacan poses it. As the French psychoanalyst noted, it is a “know­ing how to do with”, knowing through the work itself, knowing how to do something with the residue, as Senise has shown us. 

But working with residues is no guarantee that Senise will reach painting’s ultimate achieve­ment of overcoming, annulling, doing away with impasses and limits in painting, and those of his own painting. lf this were so, he would not be painting anymore; his painting would not have moved on to other media. Handling residus in this way does not mean that he has given a definitive account of them. His gaze is desiring. His oeuvre is peering back at him. lf it were not so, now we would not be seeing the different paths that Senise’s painting has taken and I would not venture to state, on coming to the end of this essay, that in his case painting itself might be thought of as residue.