“I have to tell you, I learned filmmaking more from painters and musicians than from filmmakers,” director Bela Tarr has confessed. Reversing his cue, Raha Raissnia learned to paint from filmmakers and musicians rather than painters. Anthology Film Archives left her well-versed in the cinematic avant-garde, and her projection performances often involve collaboration with experimental musicians Aki Onda and Charles Curtis. Above all, Raissnia’s paintings aspire to the temporal and experiential condition of music—suggestive, ambiguous, abstract.
Over the past decade, the artist’s paintings, drawings, and films have unfolded within a permutational, self-reflexive structure. For Series in Fugue, the principles governing Raissnia’s body of work have been collapsed into panels of oil and gesso, along with works on paper. Here, Raissnia’s films, drawings, and paintings are more closely imbricated than ever: each painting is a contrapuntal composition catalyzed by two visual quotations from the artist’s films. Their faint transfer onto gessoed wood guides the building up of oil paint and its sanding and reapplication, leading to images heretofore unseen. Her films echo this sedimentary process, themselves constructed from fragments of earlier work and structured as overlapping pairs of 35-mm slide and 16-mm film projections. Raissnia’s drawings, likewise comprised of image transfers, with sumi ink and compressed charcoal, examine this relationship of mutual influence. All are guided by the materiality of their media.
The resulting densely textured paintings draw in equal measure on the gestural and photographic, the figurative and abstract. As Raissnia’s films render these boundaries ambiguous through layers of manipulation and reference, so too do these paintings present a world that contains aspects of both but belongs properly to neither. They feature passageways to indeterminate locations and irrational architectures. “My paintings brought abstraction to the vision I captured from the world on film and now the films are bringing elements of reality into my paintings,” Raissnia says. Her viewer is left with the (impossible) task of excavating the two.
Though their source material is heterogeneous, the paintings that comprise Series in Fugue might best be conceptualized as stills excerpted from a single film. As Roland Barthes suggests, the essence of the filmic may be found, paradoxically, not in the moving image but in the film still which houses a level of meaning that lies beyond information, symbolism, or language. He terms this erratic, persistant, and elusive form the Third Meaning. Any reading of the Third Meaning “remains suspended between the image and its description,” can be found “over the shoulder” or “behind the back” of articulated language. This domain approaches the unassimilable spaces proposed by Raissnia’s paintings.
Like the archaeological layers of Raissnia’s panels, the Third Meaning is structured permutationally, permitting levels of signification and interpretation to coexist in a “multilayering of meanings which always lets the previous meaning continue, as in a geological formation, saying the opposite without giving up the contrary.” Here, Barthes suggests that neither still nor film exceeds, precedes, nor fully contains the other. The same can be said of the still and moving image in Raissnia’s multifarious body of work—the two are placed in perpetual counterpoint.