PRINT November 1993


The trilling wire in the blood sings below inveterate scars.
—T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

A PHOTOGRAPH IS USUALLY described first by naming what is visible and tangible before proceeding to that which is parenthetical or ephemeral; the photograph’s mimetic capacity tends to lead it away from the fleeting and elusive, from the province of music or poetry. But Adam Fuss’ images traffic primarily in peripheral sensation. Less representational than percussive, certain photographs suggest sound—a plucked string or a minute fluttering of the vocal chords, emerging from the throat in a wordless hum. Others inhabit a place between enigma and science, suggesting embryology and reproductive processes in images of delicate radiance.

One group of pictures shows coiling concentric circles: halos of vivid color radiating from a central point of light, they seem to pulse with a deep optical ringing. They speak of invisible impulses that imprint themselves on the nervous system, or vibrations in the air that register under the teeth.

In another group, the circles radiate from the center like ripples around a droplet falling into liquid, but the tone of these pictures is low and throaty, muffled and monotonic, like the lowest keys of a piano. In yet another,viscous droplets, like molten braille, have the density of mercury dribbling across a magnetic field. They seem to emit a pinging beyond the range of human hearing.

Some pictures are about gravity and temperature, from glacial blue to verdant green, from a curdled, metallic smear to a fungoid, moldering one. Some are buoyant as helium, others cling like barnacles. Some are soft, thin, humid. Most are subtle, but others are heaving and turbulent: water as an engulfing tide that drowns us within a claustrophobic sponging of oxygen.

Some pictures depict reptilian traces—an inadvertent gesture of self-representation, an anthropomorphic signature. Spermatic snakes bristle through water, their undulations inscribing powdery, pollinated surfaces. Some pictures are nothing but an infinite and perfect membrane—a phenomenon of air. Suggesting the surfaces of bloated and iridescent sacs poised in a perfect equilibrium of interior and exterior pressure, they defy their own fragility.

And then there are pictures of babies, resonating like tuning forks in incandescent yolks. These dreams of liquid birth point to the essence of Fuss’ work: the primal arousal of the senses, encoded in the incubative caul and reverberating in our collective biotic memory. The memory is of air and water and of two bodies—the fetal and the maternal—learning to breathe.

Stephen Frailey: An echo is a trace of an event that reverberates through time. There is a visual equivalent here in the work, as well as these aural connotations. . . .

Adam Fuss: An echo is a good way to describe the photogram, which is a visual echo of the real object. That's why I like to work with the photogram, because the contact with what is represented is actual. It's as if the border between the world and the print is osmotic.

SF: The work is about physical phenomena; is it psychological as well?

AF: It is becoming more psychological. The rabbits started three years ago with the idea that I would make a picture that combined figurative and abstract elements. I began by gutting a fish, then last summer I decided I wanted to do this with a mammal. What informed this was basically personal trauma. So there is a very literal meaning: two people with their guts entwined.