The installation itself is enormously imposing, enclosing the viewer in a virtual museum of works dedicated to unraveling the story of Theseus, whose heroic dispatch of the monstrous minotaur was facilitated by his ability to follow the thread laid down by his soon-to-be-abandoned lover Ariadne, and so escape the coils of the labyrinth in which he and his fellow Athenian youths had been sacrificially imprisoned. And indeed, following the path from one text-image pair to the next is in its way not unlike following the path laid down by Ariadne herself, especially since the set of connections, resonances, and narrative and visual pathways suggested as one moves through the gallery is nothing if not labyrinthine in its complexity. Reichek presents the externalized traces of an image snaking across the landscape of an entire culture and penetrating from its nethermost depths (the deadly center of the labyrinth) to its uttermost heights (the heaven in which Ariadne herself is enshrined by her divine lover Apollo by whom, abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos, she is greeted in the installation’s central image).18

Elaine Reichek, <em>Warburg Group</em>, 2011.

Elaine Reichek, Warburg Group, 2011. Courtesy of the artist and Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica Ca.

We can easily see in Ariadne’s mythical thread the literal thread with which the artist embroiders her own story through the enactment of that practice that brings Ariadne’s story to “life.” At the same time, Ariadne’s thread, as it provides Theseus with his guide through the dangers of the labyrinth, is a figure both for the practice of interpretation (here bound inexorably to the practice of the artist) and for the practice of life itself. To quote, from the painter George Grosz, a simplified version of one of the texts that Reichek employs: “line is the thread of Ariadne, which leads us through the labyrinth of millions of natural objects. Without line we should be lost.” 19

Elaine Reichek, <em>Pictures Archive</em>, 2011, Installation view.

Elaine Reichek, Pictures Archive, 2011, Installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Shoshana Wayne Gallery, Santa Monica Ca.

Having come now by a somewhat round-about route all the way from the written text of Freud’s memory trace, through the wordless trace of Ariadne’s thread, to the path’s material track through the world, we can pause to look at one final work that concentrates both on the track itself, the material trace that guides interpretation, and on the process of its making: Carolee Schneemann’s Up To And Including Her Limits (1973–76). This performance and its verbal and graphic residua have been given an incisive Derridean reading by Kristine Stiles in her book, Correspondence Course. On the graphic process involved in the performance itself, Stiles writes: “[Schneemann] envisioned her marks as a form of automatic writing, or trance drawing, something like a hypnotic tracking/tracing device that transcribed her physical sensations, movements and thoughts into words and images that mapped her artistic and physical processes in time. Still photographs of the performance show her body surrounded by texts and drawings, literally immersed in the two.”20 The graphic result, which Schneemann has described as “tracing…a trail [that] opens up a conducting path,” looks to me like a first draft of the Archive, which, Stiles argues, “offers an inchoate nonverbal image as an alternative to logocentric conditions of being and knowing, at the same time as it employs language to partner in decoding psychic interiority.”21


  1. Although Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas is clearly the source of Reichek’s work, Benjamin also has some interesting, and relevant, observations to make on the subject of the labyrinth. See especially a passage in “A Berlin Chronicle,” reprinted in Walter Benjamin, Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, edited and with an introduction by Peter Demetz (New York: Schocken, 1978), 30–31.
  2. For this version of the quote see the brilliant study: J. Hillis Miller, Ariadne’s Thread: Story Lines (New Haven and London: Yale, 1992), 1. Emphasis mine.
  3. Kristine Stiles, ed., Correspondence Course: An Epistolary History of Carolee Schneemann and Her Circle (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2010), lv.
  4. Ibid., lvi–lvii.
Further Reading