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lines in silence

"Silence was there first, before things. It is as though the forest grew up slowly after it: the branches of the trees are like dark lines that have followed the movements of silence; the leaves thickly cover the branches as if the silence wanted to conceal itself."

               —Max Picard, The World of Silence, 1952


A line drawn on paper can never really be silent. Just hear the sound of the nib scratching the whiteness, the ink flowing our onto open space, the record of gestures manic or slow. And a line that is made by the image of a dark blade of grass caught on the brightest snow by the click of a shutter is not silent, because the snap of the camera is needed for an instant to transfer the picture to film. A line then appears on a flickerless screen as if by magic when you move a round object across a flat surface might have greater claims to silence, because in a way the drawing of it exists nowhere but between your eyes, your hand, and the machine, and once it is there it still isn't really there, but is more a raw idea, to be twisted and bent, colored, sharpened, or blurred, all towards an image that disguises its own technique, so you can't quite tell how it was made or how long it will last.

All three of these approaches -- drawing, photography, and digital invention -- have been used by Jaanika Peerna in her efforts to reveal the calm intensity that lurks beneath this frenzied world. In no sense are these works minimalist, because they all have a lot going on in them. The few photographs may be the best clues to the silence, because they are momentary glimpses of her natural inspiration: the shadow of winter trees against a bright hillside, the texture of ivy on an urban brick wall. They suggest moods before they can be identified as objects. In his once popular but now largely forgotten book on the philosophy of silence, Max Picard notes that "the things of nature serve only to make the silence clearly visible." These photographs try to reach beyond subjects and objects to the silence between things. It matters less what the camera's lens is trained on than on how the image is framed away from things and all around tendencies, suggestions of where to go next.

Some of the digital works have three or four textural photographs layered on top of one another, and if there is a busyness to the folds of meadow upon meadow, blade upon blade, then it is like the hushed complexity of a gaze overwhelmed by images, piling them on top of one another inside, searching for the few that resonate into a whole, like when four different memories of one happening coalesce to outline the truth, a truth that no single picture can quite see.

For this is a world steeped in endless images, that are difficult to turn away from. One solution to the overload is not to turn from technology, but try to figure out how it can enhance the impulse to make a silent line, to draw without drawing, to want to draw one line but instead end up with hundreds, woven together in the virtual space that has no limit but no presence as well.

So in the end there are no quiet lines, there is no innocent noise, instead a great studied calm, a voice from a flat country no one knows much about, booming, buzzing inside, not sure how and where to get out. As Picard tells it, even words flow out of the silence, into the words, but always back into the silence at the end of the sentence. Whatever you want to say, you still have to stop saying it. Art that reveals this ultimate confusion is as difficult as it is rare.

            —David Rothenberg, lines in silence exhibition statement, 2001

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