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1This collection, entitled ‘The Poetics of Framing, Performing Frames in the Visual Arts,’ follows in the footsteps of the spatial turn that began to reassess the relationship between culture and space in the 1970s, and has led to new interpretations not only of social and geographical space, but also of artistic delineation, production, and use of space. It is more specifically interested in the question of the frame, both as a parergon and as an artefact. The parergon may rub against the ergon (the work, or the work in progress), run along it, or complement it. It is distinct from the work itself, but also from its environment. It exceeds the work, but also comes to fill a void inside it (Derrida 2010, 63, 69). The frame cuts out the space: it circumscribes the work, and creates at the same time the context of the work, which the work itself can comment on. It can determine the interpretation of the work, sometimes even by contradicting its contents, because it belongs to the internal space only with regard to the external space; in the same way, it only exists in the external space with regard to the internal space. The frame can appear at first as exteriority, as supplement of the work; but as Simone Heller-Andrist (2012) argues, it can also become a complement, thus merging with the work of art. Located at the junction between the external and the internal space, as a form of in-between device, it deploys the extent of its power as it is about to make the work happen. Essentially, the frame is a process that takes place in the interaction between the work of art and the space exterior to it.

2The framing of space presupposes both a framing gesture and the involvement of a viewer whose gaze is oriented and channelled by the frame, but may also question the work’s relationship to its surroundings. Despite the fact that the frame seems to posit the work as distinct and autonomous, the space it delimits exists in relation to the place where the work is situated: a relation is established between them, both by the act of artistic production and exhibition, and by the viewer’s experience of the work. Placed at the “point of friction of the antagonistic elements that the work of art seems to unify”, as Theodor Adorno writes (quoted in Heller-Andrist 2012, 11), the frame thus problematizes the connections between the work and its spatial environment and more largely its cultural and political/ideological context. The act of framing calls attention to social realities that viewers might prefer to ignore, it guides ththeir uses and interpretation of the artifact, and/or insists on the work’s artificial dimension. Framing sometimes tends to multiply and expand into a diversity of frames-within-frames, as painters represent frames, canvases, or even inside-out canvases within the paintings. If the frame itself is understood as friction, there is consequently a need to study the multiple frictions which result from such diversity of frames within a work. Frames may interact or clash within the same work: they may be activated successively, as the viewer discovers one after another, or simultaneously. A dynamic relation between the frames, the work as a whole, and the context in which it is situated is thus created through the viewer’s perception, engaging in a process of interpretative diffraction. The relations between frame(s) and work thus define the very modalities of comprehension and interpretation of the artistic gesture, as well as of its reception.

3The present collection of essays tackles the question of framing from a diversity of perspectives, including literature, manuscript production, and the concrete conditions of the production of the frames, with a particular focus on the history and analysis of painting. Grounded in the recognition that the art of framing is constitutive of artistic production, it examines the variety of ways in which framing has, in the history of art, established the existence of works of art as autonomous entities: the delineation of a specific space for the painting implies an active engagement with the viewer’s ability to navigate between the interior and the exterior of the frame (see Duro below). Playing with the mise-en-abyme representation of frames within frames, paintings question the viewer’s conceptions of the world (Bokody). Frames in effect organise space: it is the multiplication of frames that allows Renaissance paintings to accommodate several registers of perspective within the same work, and it is the lack of an embedded frame that challenges the overall space of the painting in Holbein’s Ambassadors (Bokody). Frames may generate social exclusion (Hirsch, Cressman), the questioning of which requires new frames or implicit comments that undermine them within the work. It is perhaps when frames gesture towards the outside of the work that they are at their most subversive. This can be achieved through a reflexive dimension (Coult), or through a piling up of semiotic codes and sources which produces a distortion and a dissemination of meaning that conceal transgression (Bobeica). The interactions between the inside and the outside of the frame are productive of a dialogue between the works of art, be they painting or photography, and the social and political contexts from which they emerge. What is inside, or conversely marginalised or left out of the frame, is crucial to the understanding of these works as they reject, reappropriate, or overlook some of the social and political norms of their time, whether they challenge the institution of slavery in the mid-19th century in the United States (Hirsch) or the nationalist ideology of Group of Seven painters in Canada in the 1920s (Cressman).

4The following papers contextualise the act of framing which they examine within specific cultural traditions, as well as on a broader scale. The implication of framing for the development of the art of painting (Duro) is studied alongside the multiplicity of references – to the Bible, to classical authors, to political and moral treatises, among others – that complexify the interpretation of poly-medial emblems (Bobeica). The circulation of frame manufacturing traditions from Europe to Australia contributes to a better understanding of cultural influences in the domain (Gowers). In the context of this history of framing, and in the perspective of material culture, the authors of the following essays also tackle the concrete aspects of frame production. The act of framing is productive of various modes of reception and uses, namely in the context of manuscripts like Psalters (Becker), but is also conditioned by economic and socio-historical contingencies (Gowers). Calling attention to these processes, some artists insist on the specific contexts in which works of art are produced, presented, and sold, paradoxically sometimes by hiding the content of the work of art itself from view (Read). The collection’s broad time span (from the Middle Ages to contemporary art), geographic scope (the British Isles, Canada, the United States, and Australia) and diversity of objects (manuscript production, painting, photography, literature) allow for a complex and nuanced examination of the artistic practice of framing, and the dynamic processes by which meaning is produced.

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Derrida, Jacques. La Vérité en peinture. Paris: Flammarion, 2010 [1978].

Heller-Andrist, Simone. The Friction of the Frame: Derrida’s Parergon in Literature. Tübingen: Francke Verlag, 2012.

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Gwendolyne Cressman, Fanny Moghaddassi et Rémi Vuillemin, « Foreword »Sillages critiques [En ligne], 35 | 2023, mis en ligne le 14 novembre 2023, consulté le 04 mars 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Gwendolyne Cressman

Université de Strasbourg

Gwendolyne Cressman is associate professor at Université de Strasbourg (France). Her research bears on photography at the crossroads of scientific enquiry, documentary and conceptual art in the United States and Canada, with a particular interest in migration, landscape, national identities and memories. She recently published an article in volume 34 of Intermédialités / Intermediality entitled ‘Sensing the Border at Roxham Road’, and has also co-edited two volumes, ‘Les ruines contemporaines’, Interfaces (forthcoming 2023) and ‘Framing/ Unframing Spaces in the English-speaking world’, Polysèmes (2022). She is currently working on a book that explores the national traditions of landscape photography in Canada and in the United States. She is co-editor of scholarly journal Ranam and of the Etudes Anglophones series hosted by Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg.

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Fanny Moghaddassi

Université de Strasbourg

Fanny Moghaddassi is associate professor at Université de Strasbourg (France). A specialist in Middle English literature, she is currently working on a monograph devoted to narrative constructions of space in Middle English Breton lays, which she approaches using tools drawn from the ‘spatial turn’ and geocriticism. She is the author of various articles on space and travel in Middle English literature, has edited several collective volumes. In 2010, she published a monograph entitled Géographies du monde, géographies de l'âme, le voyage dans la littérature anglaise de la fin du Moyen Âge (Champion). She is co-editor of the scholarly journal Ranam and of the Etudes Anglophones series at the Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, and also edited the 94th issue of the journal Études Médiévales Anglaises on 'Fashioning space' (2019).

Rémi Vuillemin

Université de Strasbourg

Rémi Vuillemin is associate professor in early modern literature at Université de Strasbourg (France). He has authored a monograph on Michael Drayton’s sonnets (Champion, 2014) and has published extensively on English Petrarchism, early modern lyric poetry, its early modern theory and its reception. He has recently co-edited two collective volumes, The Early Modern English Sonnet: Ever in Motion (Manchester UP, 2020), with Laetitia Sansonetti and Enrica Zanin, and Language Commonality and Literary Communities in Early Modern England (Brepols, 2022), with Laetitia Sansonetti, as well as two issues of scholarly journals, ‘Transmission, transposition, transformation dans l’Angleterre de la première modernité. Essais en l’honneur de Jean-Jacques Chardin’, Ranam 56 (2022), with Anne Bandry and Laurent Curelly, and ‘Framing/Unframing Spaces’, Polysèmes 28 (2022), with Gwendolyne Cressman and Fanny Moghaddassi. He is currently working on a monograph that discusses the notion of ‘sonnet sequence’, and more generally on early modern poetic collections and their reception.

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