“Caminos” by Léon Ferrari, ink on paper, 68,7 × 93,8 cm, 1982

Centre Pompidou-Metz: “Caminos” by Léon Ferrari, ink on paper, 68,7 × 93,8 cm, 1982. Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne. © Centre Pompidou, MNAM-CCI, Dist. RMN – © Philippe Migeat. © Léon Ferrari – Cortesía Fundación Augusto y León Ferrari. Arte y Acervo.

The image above was part of the exhibition Lines – A Brief History held at the Centre Pompido-Metz from January 11 to April 1st, 2013. The exhibition was organized along 7 themes: I. A taxonomy of lines; II. “The long poem of walking”; III. Tracing boundaries, narrating experience; IV. Space/measure; V. Ghostly lines; VI. Writing; VII. Lifelines. Each one of those themes is briefly presented on the exhibition website.

The exhibition was inspired by Tim Ingold’s book Lines: a brief history (New York: Routledge, 2007; Google Books preview). From the “Introduction”:

What do walking, weaving, observing, singing, storytelling, drawing and writ- ing have in common? The answer is that they all proceed along lines of one kind or another. In this book I aim to lay the foundations for what might be called a comparative anthropology of the line. So far as I know, nothing quite like this has been attempted before. […] We have anthropological studies of visual art, of music and dance, of speech and writing, of craft and material culture, but not of the production and significance of lines. Yet it takes only a moment’s reflection to recognize that lines are everywhere. As walking, talking and gesticulating creatures, human beings generate lines wherever they go. It is not just that line-making is as ubiquitous as the use of the voice, hands and feet – respect- ively in speaking, gesturing and moving around – but rather that it subsumes all these aspects of everyday human activity and, in so doing, brings them together into a single field of inquiry. This is the field that I seek to delineate. (2007: 1)

Although he is not mentioned in Ingold’s book, Vilém Flusser did proposed a comparative theory of the line and the surface in various texts assembled in the book Writings (trans. by Erik Eisel, Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 2002). Especially relevant are the essay “Line and Surface” (pp. 21-34) and “The Codified World” (pp. 35-41). Here is an excerpt of the latter:

Colors are the manner in which surfaces appear to us. Thus, if a significant number of the messages programmed for us appear in color, it means that surfaces have become important as carriers of messages. Walls, screens, paper surfaces, plastic, aluminum, glass, textiles, and so on have become important “media.” The situation before the war was relatively gray, because at that time surfaces played a smaller role in communications. Lines dominated: letters and numbers, which were ordered in rows. The meaning of these symbols is, for the most part, independent of color: a red “A” and a black “A” signify the same sound, and, had it been printed in yellow, the present essay would not have another meaning. For this reason, the current explosion of colors points to an increase in the importance of two-dimensional codes. Or vice versa: one-dimensional codes like the alphabet now begin losing importance. (2002: 35-36)

“Line and Surface” was first written in English and originally published in the magazine Main Currents of Modern Thoughts in February 1973. “The Codified World” was first published as “Die kodifizierte Welt” in Merkur: Deutsche Zeitschrift für europäisches Denken in April 1978 (see Writings, 2002: 219). Both text were translated in French and are included in La Civilisation des médias (trans. by Claude Maillard, Circé, 2006).


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