Studies of Colour in Motion

A project for Atlántica by Nicole Franchy

(in progress)

The practice of reading, translating, and imagining was referred to by Edward Said as the constitution of “an imaginative geography.” Introduced in his seminal study Orientalism (1978), the concept of imaginative geography refers, in general terms, to the spatial dimensions of the cultural practice of identity formation. It denotes the activity of representing spaces, places, and landscapes in order to identify and position one’s own cultural territory.

Having lived in different countries has led me to an extended meditation on ideas relating to our political being and how that being shifts as we move from place to place. I began collecting photographic and textual archival material relating to history, memory, and travel. Most recently, I have been led to analyse material connected with the systems of knowledge that are dominant within Western representation and the portrayal of “culture.” The use of power in language and in the representation of this material is still very active, and I find it fascinating to unravel and re-construct this onto physical as well as mental constructions that I call “associative landscapes” or “political geographies.” 

For Estudios de color en movimiento (Studies of Colour in Motion), I went back to my archives and revisited descriptions written by Alexander Von Humboldt of the colour and intensity of blue of the skies and oceans of the Spanish and African coasts in comparison to those of South America. I had originally gathered these descriptions in 2016 during research at the New York Public Library and the library of the American Museum of Natural History.

I approached these texts using a collage method that I’ve developed over the years, in which I excerpt drawings while using memorisation to re-locate and unlearn within the same gesture of collage. In my work with images there is a dislocation and reconstructive impulse, and recently I’ve been trying to translate this process into work with texts. In both operations there is a kind of associative process—a circular one since I tend to return to recurring themes that interest me. 

In my work, Humboldt’s entries on the hues of blue from the different oceans, measured by the 18th-century Saussurean cyanotype palette, are synthesized into diagrams that cover the cyanotype image of an Antillean woman of colour, who stands in the middle of a landscape of banana trees and carries a bunch of bananas while holding her finger in front of her face in a silencing gesture towards the spectator. The reverse of the piece is a degradation of 52 hues of blue from the Saussurean cyanometer alongside juxtapositions of Humboldt’s diagrams of African, Spanish, and South American sky colours and an image of space obtained from NASA archives. 

The composition of the piece, as well as its title, illuminates various insights derived from Humboldt’s descriptions, insights about transitory perceptions and observations, about physiognomy, about distinctions between shades of sea and sky colour, about landscapes defined by banana plantations, and about the ways in which we define nature.

Studies of Colour in Motion | Atlántica
Studies of Colour in Motion | Atlántica
Studies of Colour in Motion | Atlántica
Studies of Colour in Motion | Atlántica