Monthly Archives: December 2010

Between Limit and Transgression: The play of Meaning at the Image’s Edge

Today I finished my MA project research paper. Time for a nice pint.


How can the frame of the two-dimensional still image instigate a tension between presence and absence, and a play between limit and transgression?

A frame, by conventional definition, is an assertion that the edges of the still image are necessary for containing and restricting representation. As a self-contained semiotic device, the frame presents to the viewer a sign, or a collection of signs, surrounded by an indeterminable nothingness, which can never come into view. The image frame’s purpose, then, is to make the world it contains ‘ordered and rational’ (Friedberg, 2009, p.42), by structuring, limiting and closing the field of two-dimensional representation with the intention to fix meaning and context neatly within its four borders.

This inquiry, however, challenges the notion that the frame presents fixed and stable meaning; instead the frame is a device that is capable of facilitating a dialogue between inside/ outside, presence/ absence. It is this indeterminable space outside the frame that the first part of this investigation looks at in depth. Examples from drawing and photography demonstrate instances when the edges of the image support a tension between what is present or viewable in the image, and what is absent, unseen, out of view, beyond its borders. Gilles Deleuze’s concept of the ‘out-of-field’ provides the theoretical basis for an exploration into how the still image is able to signify a “somewhere else” in space and time outside the frame (Deleuze, 2005, p.18).

The investigation then goes on to explore other ways in which the still image is able to transgress the fixity of the frame. The Exquisite Corpse and patchwork quilt exemplify a frame or grid with possibilities for limitless spatial expansion. In these procedural activities, the grid is the underlying ordering and sequencing mechanism, which structures a ‘dynamic tension’ between ‘rules and transgression’ (Kern, 2009, p.5). An examination of these ideas is then explored in relation to the pixel-based digital image, with its potential for infinite compositional transformation and spatial development.

This inquiry determines that the still image frame is capable of instigating a dialogical play or irresolvable tension, between what is present in the frame, and what is absent, beyond its borders. This inquiry also shows that the frame or gridded mechanism in dynamic spatial development facilitates a ‘movement of a chain’, a transformative process in which meaning and context are inherently boundless (Derrida, 1980, p.292).

Key words: Frame, Representation, Presence/ Absence, Semiotics, Play