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The Viewing of Las Meninas

The Viewing of Las Meninas
The Viewing of Las Meninas
This lecture-performance takes as its starting point the famous painting by Diego Velázquez, circa 1656, on view in the Museo del Prado in Madrid and in the 3D viewer that sits on my bookshelves and looks out. The piece takes the form of a reading of a three-way exchange, and audience address, between Michel Foucault, Svetlana Alpers and me, positioned according to the diagram above and in front of the image of the viewer. It is a not an altogether imaginary exchange, but is constructed from Foucault’s discourse on Las Meninas from the beginning of his book The Order of Things, first published in French in 1966; the 1983 critique of Foucault’s piece by Alpers, ‘Interpretation without Representation, or, the Viewing of Las Meninas’; and my own description of the visual content of the painting, written for the purpose of this lecture-performance. In Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) Foucault admits to having ‘no great liking for interpretation’, and his discourse on Las Meninas is of course one on representation, on the representation of representations, so Alpers’ title is immediately contradictory.

My own detailed description is a vehicle for the examination of Las Meninas in a post-representational way: not in terms of the autonomy of the artwork or the ‘language’ of painting; not to do with authorship or intention. The discussion that is provoked by the technique of visual content-based description is placed outside of the system of signs that is usually considered in discussions of representation. However, I am compelled to take a representational stance of sorts; after all, I am dealing with the relationship (infinite, according to Foucault) between language and image, between one representation and another. Although he does not attempt to decode the picture in terms of narrative or plot, or place any importance on the names or roles of the characters depicted (except for purposes of identification and the occasional anecdote), Foucault does more than describe; this becomes clear when pitched against the pure description that I supply. The ‘grey, anonymous language’ that Foucault authorizes is without doubt the language that I use.

The relationship of Las Meninas to the photographic image is frequently discussed. In the image reproduced above, a different relationship to photography emerges, as the painting is many times photographically remediated, echoing the remediations, the representation of representations, in the reading. The 3D viewer’s own viewpoint is directed away from the camera and the painting is almost hidden from view (as Alpers asks, ‘Where are the king and queen?’). Las Meninas is once again represented by language alone: the name of the artist and the title of the work printed on the cardboard casing of the apparatus.
Las Meninas, 3D viewer, Michel Foucault, Svetlana Alpers, viewpoints, description
Birkin, Jane
30ada6e1-9603-4a9c-9159-8297758817fe
Birkin, Jane
30ada6e1-9603-4a9c-9159-8297758817fe

Birkin, Jane (2015) The Viewing of Las Meninas.

Record type: Art Design Item

Abstract

This lecture-performance takes as its starting point the famous painting by Diego Velázquez, circa 1656, on view in the Museo del Prado in Madrid and in the 3D viewer that sits on my bookshelves and looks out. The piece takes the form of a reading of a three-way exchange, and audience address, between Michel Foucault, Svetlana Alpers and me, positioned according to the diagram above and in front of the image of the viewer. It is a not an altogether imaginary exchange, but is constructed from Foucault’s discourse on Las Meninas from the beginning of his book The Order of Things, first published in French in 1966; the 1983 critique of Foucault’s piece by Alpers, ‘Interpretation without Representation, or, the Viewing of Las Meninas’; and my own description of the visual content of the painting, written for the purpose of this lecture-performance. In Archaeology of Knowledge (1969) Foucault admits to having ‘no great liking for interpretation’, and his discourse on Las Meninas is of course one on representation, on the representation of representations, so Alpers’ title is immediately contradictory.

My own detailed description is a vehicle for the examination of Las Meninas in a post-representational way: not in terms of the autonomy of the artwork or the ‘language’ of painting; not to do with authorship or intention. The discussion that is provoked by the technique of visual content-based description is placed outside of the system of signs that is usually considered in discussions of representation. However, I am compelled to take a representational stance of sorts; after all, I am dealing with the relationship (infinite, according to Foucault) between language and image, between one representation and another. Although he does not attempt to decode the picture in terms of narrative or plot, or place any importance on the names or roles of the characters depicted (except for purposes of identification and the occasional anecdote), Foucault does more than describe; this becomes clear when pitched against the pure description that I supply. The ‘grey, anonymous language’ that Foucault authorizes is without doubt the language that I use.

The relationship of Las Meninas to the photographic image is frequently discussed. In the image reproduced above, a different relationship to photography emerges, as the painting is many times photographically remediated, echoing the remediations, the representation of representations, in the reading. The 3D viewer’s own viewpoint is directed away from the camera and the painting is almost hidden from view (as Alpers asks, ‘Where are the king and queen?’). Las Meninas is once again represented by language alone: the name of the artist and the title of the work printed on the cardboard casing of the apparatus.

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More information

Published date: July 2015
Additional Information: This piece was originally performed in July 2015 at The Crypt Gallery, Euston Road, London NW1 2BA, as part of the 'Meeting Point' exhibition. There followed in September 2015 a 'guerilla' performance at the Prado Museum in Madrid, in front of 'Las Meninas' itself. In November 2015 it was performed as part of the 'Media Theory in Transit' symposium at Winchester School of Art.
Keywords: Las Meninas, 3D viewer, Michel Foucault, Svetlana Alpers, viewpoints, description
Organisations: Winchester School of Art

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 408658
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/408658
PURE UUID: 63ed8516-f73d-45dd-b080-1ce0513f9abb
ORCID for Jane Birkin: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-6025-9300

Catalogue record

Date deposited: 25 May 2017 04:03
Last modified: 14 Mar 2019 01:49

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Contributors

Arranger: Jane Birkin ORCID iD

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