Susan van Hengstum: The travelling of an image through space

Advisor / tutor: Doreen Mende

Independent reviewer: Carolina Rito

Arnhem, June 2013


"In May 2012 I travelled to Dakar in Senegal. This trip was a part of the programme of my Master Studies at the Dutch Art Institute. The actual visit was preceded by a period of preparation, during which I researched specific characteristics of the city of Dakar and explored certain personal and artistic interests. The preparations had as a goal the making of a photographic work in Dakar, about Dakar.
The journey to Dakar revealed several phases of the creative process: first, imagining a place without ever having been there; second, arriving at a new place; third, creating a photographic work on site; and fourth, exhibiting the work. Consequently, Dakar formed the outset of thinking about the travelling of an image through space.
This thesis aims to come to an understanding of the different stages a creative process goes through and uses a twofold approach. The first is a personal one, which manifests itself as a case study of my own creative process leading towards the production of a photographic work. The second is a theoretical one in which each stage of the creative process is analyzed from a theoretical point of view. From a methodological point of view, I am using my own creative process as a case study, meaning that the nature of my research is qualitative rather them quantitative.
As described above, the creative process consists of four stages of production. These stages embody the transformation and manifestation of the image. Each chapter can be regarded as a chamber of space through which the image travels.
In the first chapter we will look at the personal process of preparation (hereafter; space of the mind) preceding the trip during which maps play an important role. Central to the process of preparation is the concept of imagination as described by G. Bachelard. Following the space of the mind we turn to the process of arriving in a new space (hereafter; space of arrival) in the second chapter. Personal reflections of arriving in a new place lead to a meeting of the imagination and the physical space of arrival. The concepts surrounding this process can be found in the description of the poetic space by E. Said and in the flash by W. Benjamin. In the third chapter we have reached the phase of creating the work (hereafter; space of creation). In this space, the potential of the space of arrival has started to form the basis of the final artwork. The different phases of creation
will bring us back to the concepts as introduced in the first two chapters. The fourth chapter will draw attention to the space of the viewer (hereafter; space of exposition). This chapter elaborates on the space of exposition both from the perspective of the maker, which will be accompanied by E. van Alphen's perspective on the space of an artwork and of the spectator. In the space of exposition the work enters the public realm and meets the space of mind of the beholder. This will be illustrated by the concept of the continuing image by S. Daney.
The project in Dakar highlights the central role of the imagination by three factors: Dakar was at that point in time an unfamiliar place to me; it was a destination that was not of my choosing; and it would have to serve as a place in which to make an artwork. Consequently, imagining Dakar and imagining the work I wanted to make there took place simultaneously. This made it possible to isolate the role of the imagination in relation to this project, because the circumstances lent themselves particularly well to doing so. The relatively short period of time that would actually be spent in Dakar meant that the first phase would become particular significant, as it would remain a more recent reference on site.
This thesis gives special attention to the travelling of an image in relation to orientation. How is an image viewed in relation to space? How does one bring one's imaginings about intangible notions such as direction and orientation into a place and how could they be visualized? Clearly there are other aspects at work in the transformation of the image. For this thesis I will focus on the aspect of space, rather than time. Further, this thesis will refer to the image in relation to the imaginary rather than to our collective visual memory, or to imagery from the media. Consequently the emphasis lies on the individual relationship to an  image rather than the collective relationship to an image.

The way I unfold the spaces of production must be seen in the light of photographic- or video works which document the world around us. Therefore, the travelling of an image should be seen in relation to the creative process whereby a camera is used as the mode of production.
This thesis is an attempt to elucidate the role of the imagination in the four spaces of the image: as a source of ideas, as a sounding-board that reflects what one encounters; as a fertile basis for the creation of new imagery and as the ability to transform a work of art. Moreover, I hope to offer an insight in the process of producing a visual work."  SvH


Susan van Hengstum, with The Travelling of an Image Through Space, presented a precise and pertinent take on the way in which an image is produced, looking closely to the creative process developed by the artist and its relationship with the moment of exposure, hence exhibition. The present dissertation also encompassed the articulation of a place in which theory and practice merge, inhabiting a territory where the place of making is at the same time where thoughts are being put into practice. Therefore, Hengstum's master thesis enters the discursive plateau without being self explanatory or illustrative of her artistic proposal. Regarding structuring and development of the argument, it seems to respect the quoted references as well as expanding their initial understanding, namely through the presentation of the project in Senegal. Fass as a process that does not look for the truth of the object portrayed, but unpacks the assumptions about the visited place at the same time as it makes images about this place manifest throughout the writing. For further investigation I would suggest a more in-depth approach to the notion of (dis)orientation as the place of the unknown or unknowing (Bataille), not only as a point of departure, but also as an operative place where the creative process unfolds. Additionally, following up on the way in which the creative process was divided into four stages/spaces, a more flexible articulation would allow another view over this process, where its linearity would be challenged. Following this reasoning, when Hengstum describes the situation in the square it becomes also part of the work itself. A moment that is not highly visible, but still inscribes itself within the production of images in a different intensity. Regarding the space of exhibition, considering its complex set of layers, I would suggest Paul O'Neill's notion of coalesce where he delves into three different grounds where the space of exposure takes place, hence background, middleground and foreground.  CR