Unlocking Visual Codes | Steve Sabella

2015 

Art talk given during Sabella's April 2015 Palestine tour.

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This work explores the relationship between two realities––one being Israeli colonization and the other being the Pal- estinian Right of Return. This is the story that emerges on the surface of the work. Yet, if we look carefully at the frag- ments we can see that they have several thin layers in different colors and shades. The formal experiment in this work transformed a digital image––that can be copied infinitely––into a one time original, a unique work of art. When I left the darkroom and saw the result I believed I had cracked a visual code. But, it turned out to be a visual dilemma.
I traveled to London to show 38 Days of Re-collection to Dr. Venetia Porter at the British Museum. She said that I needed to make sure that the fragments don’t break because they were so fragile to the touch, or to use her words, “They almost fall part when looking at them.” I left the museum and just after using my oyster card to exit the under- ground tube station, one of the boxes slipped from my hand and the piece I cherished the most (image below), shat- tered into pieces. This piece no longer exists, but digital images are the evidence of its existence, and are the only verifier of its past materiality. This challenged me, because once the artwork existed, it became part of my personal art history. In the end, the image won, because the only proof that the artwork ever existed is through its image. Thus 38 Days of Re-collection became an exploration into the genealogy of the image. 
Each piece is an unfolding visual palimpsest. The traditional definition of palimpsest is a manuscript where text has been removed to make room for new text––layer upon layer of content and meaning. Each overlapping layer holds within it information as well as the erasure or removal of information, thus revealing new or hidden readings. New context and layers are fixed onto what appears to be an archaeological artifact, raising questions about history and origin, and about the genealogy of the image.

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