Conceptions of iconicity and their historical reorientations: Pippa Skotnes’s horse skeletons and the topos of the Annunciation

Art, access and agency - Art sites of enabling

Keywords: conceptions of iconicity, Annunciation, Pippa Skotnes, iconic difference, mytho-poetic symbolism, Paul Ricoeur, Eucharist


How has art practise historically displayed, enhanced and interrogated its contemporaneous definitions of the nature of images? The focus is on the contemporary South African artist, Pippa Skotnes’s horse skeletons, in resonance with a constellation of select Renaissance Annunciation paintings, to highlight the impact of the Eucharist and “real presence” on early modern, modern and post-modern notions of what images have been assumed to be. My comparative interpretation of the diverse works distinguishes their peculiar image functions from systematic and historical perspectives. I show that, with the advent of the most sophisticated type of image, the artistic image, images have been refining their own definitions in performative ways.

I show in my interpretations of these image-aware meta-artworks, that the Incarnation of Christ as the Imago Dei, as well as changing historical understandings of Christ’s image act of the institution of the Eucharist, gradually and radically transformed understandings of the nature of images in the west. I furthermore argue that Skotnes’s knowledge, through performative research of indigenous Southern African image traditions of the Khoisan/|Xam, contributes lost historical image dimensions to her work, and augments current understandings of images and art, at a time when plenary experiences of time, and historical and cultural density, are appreciated.

For me, Skotnes’s work artistically performs Paul Ricoeur’s philosophical assumption that continuous and persistent historical reorientations of ancient sacred symbolism of the natural world remain at the root of, and infinitely augment, contemporary conceptions of the ‘figurative’ (Ricoeur 1967:10-18) – or by extension, of what images and art are. In the contemporary South African artist’s work, the beauty and complexity of diverse simultaneous cultural and geographical notions of what images are and have been, are staged. Like the Renaissance Annunciation paintings, her “bone books” splendidly contribute to the process of differentiating and articulating discursive definitions of what images have been conceived to be.