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Jeanne S.M.Willette

Observe the vessel. The vase is like you.
It has a neck. You have a neck.
It has a shoulder. You have a shoulder.
It has a body. You have a body.
It has a foot. You have feet.

What counts in a vase is the void inside.¹

The container was one of the first objects we made; one of the first “Others” we constructed. Observe. We have seen the like between the vase and ourselves. Now look at the un-like. You have a head. The vase does not have a head. You have arms and hands. The vase has no hands. It is a thing to be hand-held. You have feet. You can move. You are mobile. The vase has one foot. It stands. The vase does not have free will, it lacks agency. God-like, we shaped the vase in our image, but it is not us. The vessel is a reflected displacement of ourselves upon the “Other.”

The works in James Higginson’s Recollection suite are and are not singular photographs of vases. In this suite, Higginson reflects upon the relationship between the One (us) and the Other (the vessel) and those elements that make both human: interiority. He delves inside Consciousness by way of Something Else. His examination of the analogous humanity of both is not a critique but, rather, an engagement with the very nature of contemporary humanity. What have we become on our journey to the impasse that is Postmodernism? Higginson does not shrink from confronting the spectator with the choice between chic cynicism and the fresh possibility of being-as-existence. At this stage of his oeuvre, Higginson is comfortable with moving between narration and metaphor. Here, analogy becomes a literature of consciousness and conscience, both his and ours. His photography is metonymy.

In the first movement of the Recollection suite, the already-articulated vase stands alone. The vessel is a postmodern simulacrum, a photograph of something that is not, a lingering trace of the lost object. Both the artist and the vase mask inadequacy in elaborate decoration. A (photographic) positive and negative, the out/side of the vase reflects fullness and plentitude. The vase exists. The vase does not exist. The inner space has surged outward to fashion the outer shape, an oscillation marked on the surface by the outline of the embellishments. Like scars of the struggle, like rifts in the crust, the ornamentation is pure supplement, unnecessary, an excess, a surplus. It says everything. It says nothing.

Higginson implies that the vase is both incomplete and over-determined. We are the vase. We are alone. We are empty, waiting to be filled, with what is our choosing. The void that has been us now fills us, shapes us. It is no accident that one’s first canvas was the human body. We painted it, carved it, shaped it, and made it his own territory. The decorations on Higginson’s vessels are shape-shifters, dividing the object from itself, disclosing the inner contradiction between the vase’s dark emptiness and its abundant exterior. Like Man Ray’s use of solarization, Higginson forces dark lines around the vases to force positive and negative to become one. This ornamentation makes us believe we are eloquent.

By violating the photographic seamlessness, by sundering the vase surface, Higginson points to thoughts beyond the thing-in-itself...those things we articulate but never see. The vase is maimed. The body is without head, hands, or feet. Language too is maimed. Consider the title: Recollection. Recollection is a maimed word, deprived of flexibility, standing on one foot, like the vase. To “recollect,” to re-collect, to collect once more. This word implies that one has already collected something. But what? When we speak of “collecting,” we speak of gathering objects, aggregating. Yet when we say that we “recollect,” we actually mean we collect our thoughts again. Recollection can only refer to thoughts and because thoughts may be collected again, they may also be lost. By extension, re-collected thoughts may only be gathered from the past. To find them, we must re-trace our steps. Recollections are traces, tracks we follow until they disappear.

Where do we put these re-collected thoughts? The vase/body is the only container. We
re-collect our thoughts, and name them “memories.” It seems we can go only backward. The French language offers a way forward–Souvenier: a thought granted the form of an object. A hybrid, a fusion. We project our recollections upon the souvenier. The vase is the souvenier. Our bodies remember.

In the second movement of the suite, Higginson leads us toward a resolution of “Recollection.” The One vase is joined by the Other vase. This encounter results in consciousness. We obtain self-consciousness only when we become aware of those who-are-not-us. Outwardness becomes identity. The exterior is all we see. The One and the Other gaze upon each other. Higginson played with the two vessels, denying them full access to each other. Isolated and separated, Higginson crops the entities off at their outer sides. He slices them. The vases cannot protest. Dis/articulated, they mutely stare across the void. The void is the stand-in, the signifier. The void is within them. The void is within ourselves. The viewer of the photograph is fixated upon the void—the space—between the vessels. The void is active, acute, alive, pushing the two apart, forever separating them. Trapped within our bodies, we cannot reach out.

In the third movement, the “Doubling” of the second state transforms into a “Grouping” of many Beings. Here is a key moment. Higginson has moved from two “characters,” gazing upon each other from their separate stations to a Consciousness of self, self-consciousness that is discovered through the touch of the Other. Le toucher, “to touch.” The first sensation we know is touch. We are touched. We are handled. We are given body. Slowly, our senses gather. We begin to know. As we are displaced. We are set in motion. God had to touch us to make us. We bear his/her fingerprints. God is the ultimate Difference. That Being is non-corporeal. Our Being must have Body. Our bodies are our keepers. We become ourselves, embraced within our forms. Without our bodies, our (self)-consciousness cannot be contained. And yet, we blur and dissolve as we move against each other, as we become aware.

Higginson is not concerned with the traditional mind/body dialectic. He rejects the forever-separation, Cartesian thinking. Ultimately, Higginson, a post-postmodern artist, does not allow such binary thinking. But, while postmodernism un-freezes the rift and dissolves the differences of opposites, this movement never allows a resolution. Higginson wants to re-solve. Higginson wants to move beyond the postmodern (non)solution of oscillating difference to a state of Being beyond “différance.” What is between Being-for-itself and Being-for-the Other? Not the void. This emptiness is the trap of the One separated from the Other. This trap is doubled. Mind cannot reach out to mind. The container is not just the body; it is the mind, self-enfolded, isolated, left alone with the feeble tool of

Higginson finds a way out of this cruel snare. Between inside and outside, between void and shape, between mind and body, between Nothingness and Being, there is Becoming. Being in a state of ever-Becoming, we are not formed, we are not deformed, we are being
re-formed. We are not immobilized by our un-re-solve-able duality. We act. We are
act-ualized by our acts of becoming. We exist because we act. Sartre taught us that. Higginson too thinks we can be re-formed and completes his contemplation of Recollection by insisting that the in-betweenness that was, is not.

In Higginson’s last movement of the vase photographic suite, he shatters the form, the surrogate of ourselves, the substitution of our body, to see inside (of us). The Recollections that are Self become Reflections of the Self. Consider…if we are an outside only because we are an inside, then are we a body only because we are a mind? If we are the past (memory) (recollection), then we must also be the future. In darkness is light. Is James Higginson telling us that to become One with the Other, we must shatter our stubborn fabrications of our One-ness? Is James Higginson insisting that to move forward we must disperse the past and scatter it like discarded jewels?

Sartre tells us we have freedom. We are free to act and free to make and remake ourselves. Are we not both God and God’s creation? Do we bear our own fingerprints? We are
uncertainty. How odd. We are shattered. Yet, the space between us is filled. How utterly and divinely beautiful we are. We dissolve. We resolve. We reform. We are a paradox. A future shape filled with recollections. A form that projects ever outwards, moving outside of time and towards the future. The shattering has projected us outward. In the fragments, in the light, we see ourselves and, therefore, each other. To act is to exist. To act is to make a leap of faith. Without hope, there is no faith. Higginson is saying that we are filled with hope, we exist because we hope that Consciousness Is Hope. Without hope, all is a dark void–the inside of an empty vase.

We hope because we die.
We live because we hope.

¹ Jean-Paul Sartre in M. Contat and M. Rybalka, eds. Les Ecrits de Sartre. Chronologie Bibliograthie commentée. Paris: Gallimard, p. 85