Traces, Indexes, and Implied Presence


As a type of sign, an index communicates meaning through direct physical effect—for example, a tire track represents a car; a thumbprint represents a person; and a crater represents a meteor. The traces of a physical impact imply the presence or action that created them. Artists since the prehistoric era have left traces of themselves in their work, from the pigmented handprints of cave paintings to the skeins of paint that trace arm motions in Jackson Pollock's drip paintings. Contemporary artists continue to engage with this concept of trace, index, and presence, as in David Maisel's series Shadow Paintings, where he reveals traces of old paintings through ghostly x-rays.

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