History, ruin and sacrament : the breaking of images and the breaking of the bread

05 Oct 2012

The current renewed interest in the phenomenon of iconoclasm (a form of ruination) is a symptom of the re-thinking of the image in a medium-aware milieu. When the medium is attacked in iconoclastic acts, images endure and circulate more vigorously. In this article the focus is on the ambiguous historical moment of destruction; on the impending blow; on the hammer or sword in mid-swing – on the breaking of images as a moment of the dissemination and endurance of historical meaning. The metaphorical power of the ruin to evoke not only loss, but also completion or fulfilment, is exploited here to intimate a systematic distinction between allegory and symbol. Through the performative interpretation of a number of art works which stage ruination, destruction, deterioration or violence, the historical processes of the emancipation, transformation, translation and re-mediation of images is related to conflicted understandings of the meaning of history. I endeavour to show how diverse beliefs about the mystery of the meaning of history are related to the ways in which the world is made to signify in nuanced artistic ways, either allegorically or symbolically.