The Painting that Isn't: An Ekphrastic Search for the Picture in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Imri Sandström
20 min Presentation + 20 min Discussion
Annett Busch
Olavshallen: Cinemateket
The proposed presentation is a version of the first chapter in my ongoing artistic research project “Writing Visual Relations: The Possibilities of Transdisciplinary Ekphrasis.” In this project, ekphrasis — the writing of visual artworks — serves as a means to engage with text–image relationality and the ossibilities of writing the image. The relations between text and the visual is a core issue not just for artistic research but also for perception; how to navigate the read, and how to read the seen. Drawing on new materialist and queer feminist ideas, this project considers the textual and the visual fields as already transdisciplinary — meaning that, while they may be different, they are not separated. Thus, questions of influence, power, indebtedness, and what the differences do, are at play. This first chapter of the research regards the curiously sparsely described picture of Dorian Gray, in Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), which served as key evidence in the famous trials against Wilde on the charge of “gross indecency.” Turning to the unquiet of the visual, the chapter considers the high stakes of visualizing, and the risks of writing. Specifically engaging with Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology, the linguistic notion of deixis, and E.M. Forster's novel Maurice, the chapter sets out to look for the missing ekphrasis, while discussing notions of ekphrastic orientation, influence and impressibility, and speaking the unspeakable. Understanding the past as open, ongoing, and at work in the present, turning to previous artistic writing is key, when considering textual-visual risk, and the possibilities of ekphrasis. By listening to, and writing in relation to, unquiet visualities, my hope is to spark a discussion beyond disciplinary divides, to further not just understandings but also ways of engaging with the textual–visual current.

Imri Sandström

Imri Sandström is an artist, writer, and researcher. Informed by feminist, new materialist, and decolonial thinking and practice, she is invested in issues regarding language, history, performativity, and transdisciplinarity. In 2019 she completed her thesis Tvärsöver otysta tider / Across Unquiet Times and earned her doctoral degree in literary composition from HDK-Valand, Gothenburg University. As of January 2022 Sandström is running the artistic research project Writing Visual Relations, funded by the Swedish Research Council.