This edition of JAC takes as its starting point the notion of negative space, in all of its potential interpretations. On a formal level, how have artists used emptiness to make meaning through absence? Or, considered through a different lens, can a negation add value? How can an absence, whether visual or theoretical, allow us to see what remains more clearly? Conversely, might a physical space itself be negative? What spatial qualities elicit discomfort?
Our contributors consider the multivalent possibilities of “negative space” across decades, cultures, and media for JAC’s fourth print journal. Writing on Deana Lawson’s portraits of “exalted Black subjects,” Nicole-Ann Lobo argues that tight spatial arrangements foreclose spectatorial ownership, figuring underrepresented bodies as whole, dignified individuals. These compositions stage a dialectic of disclosure, challenging the intersections of power and privilege that underlie the viewer’s gaze. Continuing this investigation into portraiture, Oscar yi Hou explores how an abundance of negative space loosely delineates between subject and environment in Jennifer Packer’s figurative paintings, resisting bodily objectification. Here, the relationship between the self and the world is restaged: yi Hou writes that, in this embrace of hazy foreground-background relations, Packer protests the historical representation of black women in American painting.
Jason Ooi turns to cinema to further grapple with these questions of representation. Analyzing one of the many avant-garde approaches to subverting the medium’s historical tendency to conflate vision with domination, Ooi writes on the flicker film, a cinematic practice where 13 narrative is eschewed in favor of a succession of flashing lights. In the gaps and patterns between flares, viewers become aware of their own neurological processes, dissolving the conventional cinematic metaphor of consciousness and involving the body through an interplay of light and blankness.
Allison Yoo takes as a subject Lee Ufan’s Mono-ha school, which redefined the understanding of “non-art” in Japanese contemporary visual culture. In Ufan’s work, Yoo writes, the empty space surrounding sculptural objects encourages elevated reflection on the relationship between self and other. How does negative space imply an otherness we cannot access ourselves, and how might this territory impact our own formation as subjects? Rani Rachavelpula reflects on similar questions as she discusses how, in Gauri Gill’s photo series Acts of Appearance, a contemporary depiction of Adivasi identity asks us to consider the politics of “otherness” in post-colonial India: is the self formed in relation to the other — an act of negation — or posited independently?
Alongside these essays, we are thrilled to present original visual art by Mary Champagne, Sarah Courville, Vibhav Kapoor, Aimée Lyon, Mika Obayashi, Anderson Peguero II, and Daniel Stroh. Engaging media from painting to papier-mâché, collage to sculptural installation, they demonstrate the infinite ways in which negative space can add positive value. Finally, we offer our infinite gratitude to the community that has continued to offer support and guidance as JAC grows and evolves.
Anderson Peguero II
Deana Lawson’s Exalted Black Subjects
das richtige Licht
In Which Humanness Rests
Oscar yi Hou
Lee Ufan and the Art of Margins
A Politics of Appearance