Unreal Nature

June 17, 2019

The Breaking Down of a World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

… These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands …

This is from Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection by Julia Kristeva (1980):

… The corpse (or cadaver: cadere, to fall), that which has irredemiably come a cropper, is cesspool, and death; it upsets even more violently the one who confronts it as fragile and fallacious chance. A wound with blood and pus, or the sickly, acrid smell of sweat, of decay, does not signify death. In the presence of signified death — a flat encephalograph, for instance — I would understand, react, or accept.

[line break added] No, as in true theater, without make-up or masks, refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live. These body fluids, this defilement, this shit are what life withstands, hardly and with difficulty, on the part of death. There, I am at the border of my condition as a living being. My body extricates itself, as being alive, from that border.

… In that compelling, raw, insolent thing in the morgue’s full sunlight, in that thing that no longer matches and therefore no longer signifies anything, I behold the breaking down of a world that has erased its borders: fainting away. The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life. Abject.




June 16, 2019

This Is How a Dead Leaf Glides

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:24 am

… a thousand gleaners would have chosen differently.

This is from The Incandescent by Michel Serres, translated by Randolph Burks (2003; 2018):

… Let’s go back over the Grand Narrative. Thousands upon thousands of bifurcations bush out, unpredictable, along its contingent course. In the vicinity of each bifurcation, an astonishing, sometimes even improbable, emergence suddenly arises: the big bang itself, if it ever existed, the baking of the material elements in the furnace of the galaxies, of the stars, of the hundred objects of the astrophysical Universe, the countless events dependent on the cooling of some planet,

[line break added] the bombardment of a thousand asteroids, the occurrence of water on the Earth, the ruptures of the tectonic plates, volcanism, the concatenation of an RNA, the Cambrian explosion, the five eradications of species, the disordered torrent of mutations, our ancestors of six or seven million years ago, their first bipedal walks, fire, the exit from Africa, seafaring, wheat, the ox, the donkey, the apple and wine, the invention of courtly love by the Occitan troubadours. … When I am harvesting in passing the new directions that have a bit to do with me, a thousand gleaners would have chosen differently.

[ … ]

… The narrative [of a novel] develops from equilibrium to equilibrium, the passage from one hardly inclined stage to the next one occurring by successive catastrophes — storm, fire, running aground — in which these stabilities totter, each of which, original, develops its own law; each rupture or disturbing circumstance allows the law to be changed.

This is how a dead leaf glides a long time in the autumn after apoptosis, first falling almost horizontally, then abruptly stalling, falling quickly so as to suddenly find itself lower, once again almost horizontal and stable, before a new stall occurs … .

My previous post from Serres’s book is here.




June 15, 2019

Test a Spell

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:16 am

… You cannot test a spell. To utter it is to put it into effect.

This is from ‘Living with Ghosts: From Appropriation to Invocation in Contemporary Art’ by Jan Verwoert (2007):

… my claim is that the specific difference between the momentum of appropriation in the 1980s and today lies in a decisive shift in the relation to the object of appropriation — from the re-use of a dead commodity fetish to the invocation of something that lives through time — and, underlying this shift, a radical transformation of the experience of the historical situation, from a feeling of a general loss of historicity to a current sense of an excessive presence of history, a shift from not enough to too much history or rather too many histories.

… It is [the] sudden realization that words and images, as arbitrarily construed they may be, produce unsuspected effects and affects in the real world, which could be said to mark the momentum of the 1990s. A key consequence of this momentum is the shift in critical discourse away from a primary focus on the arbitrary and constructed character of the linguistic sign toward a desire to understand the performativity of language and grasp precisely how things are done with words, that is, how language through its power of interpellation and injunction enforces the meaning of what it spells out and, like a spell placed on a person, binds that person to execute what it commands.

… When you call up a specter, it will not content itself with being inspected, it will require active negotiation to accommodate the ghost and direct its actions, or at least keep them in check.

… You cannot test a spell. To utter it is to put it into effect.

… in the relationship between a specter and the one who invokes it, who controls whom will always remain dangerously ambiguous and the subject of practical struggle.

… Appropriation, then, is about performing the unresolved by staging objects, images or allegories that invoke the ghosts of unclosed histories in a way that allows them to appear as ghosts and reveal the nature of the ambiguous presence. And to do that is first of all a question of finding appropriate ways of going through the practicalities of the performance of evocation, that is: a question of practice.




June 14, 2019

To Move Away From the Self

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… the act of painting itself belongs to a different dimension than the system of knowledge.

This is from The Art of Encounter by Lee Ufan (2018):

… Long ago Picasso rejected exploration and reproduction in painting. Many avant-garde artists have gone beyond even arbitrary action; what they do is like playing with mud on the canvas. It might be said, if one were not afraid of being misunderstood, that artists do not really know what they are doing. They are creators with nothing to express. If an artist encounters something, he ignores it or breaks it down rather than pursuing it.

The work of the artist slips away more and more from the system of knowledge. The painter has moved far away from the sort of meaning that Pascal ridiculed, but the new Pascals are likely to accuse the whole race of painters of being foolish. In spite of this painters continue to paint, whether on canvas or some other material, realizing that each moment is a precious part of life. They realize that the world exists in the interval between the brush, the canvas, the paint, and the hand, elements which attract and repel each other, rather than in the meaning of painting.

[line break added] Painters do not aim at finishing or completing a painting because the act of painting itself belongs to a different dimension than the system of knowledge. If they speak too exaggeratedly of the nobility of the act of painting, it is because of the discipline they undertake in order to move away from the self and encounter the world, which is the real work of living.

My most recent previous post from Lee Ufan’s book is here.




June 13, 2019

Immediacy and Intrusiveness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:21 am

… “the excessive, out-from-the-outside motion and force with which sound infuses the verbal.”

This is from the essay ‘Neon Sign, None Sing’ by Glenn Ligon found in the Bruce Nauman catalog Disappearing Acts (2019):

… Neons are supposed to be seen and not heard, but Nauman is very much aware of their sonic qualities. He has talked of “the neon pieces that have transformers, buzzing and clicking and whatnot: in some places I’ve installed them, people are disturbed by these sounds. There is an immediacy and intrusiveness about sound that you can’t avoid.”

… In Raw War (1970), the R in the piece flashes on and then off, the A quickly lights up and remains on, and the W and the R quickly light up to complete the word WAR, which has been spelled out, though in stuttering reverse. Then the whole piece goes dark and the sequence repeats. “Over and over again, like a broken record,” my mother used to say when I obliged her to ask me one more time to make my bed or brush my teeth when I was a child. My mother’s annoyance at having to repeat herself reminds me of the annoyance of Nauman’s neons, which tell you again and again what you already know because you heard it the first time. The repetition is maddening but rote learning is effective: I learned to pay attention.

Nauman uses repetition to transform our experience of words. Repetition, along with his interest in “ongoingness” in music and film, his layering and flipping of text, his sometimes acerbic color combinations, and his use of the phrases in the neons as elements in other works, including works that incorporate sound, all serve as ways he pushes words beyond their literal meanings, in the process breaking down distinctions between media and genres.

[line break added] When asked to comment on a recording of one of his own compositions, jazz musician Charles Lloyd responded, “Words don’t go there.” In his book In the Break, poet and theorist Fred Moten delivers a brilliant analysis of Lloyd’s quote — expanding on words and where they might go — and of “the excessive, out-from-the-outside motion and force with which sound infuses the verbal.”

[ … ]

… Moten has called sound “the occluded of language,” but in Nauman’s work sound is not hidden but pours out everywhere. His neons restore some of the “phonic substance” that reading strips away. It is through language, and through Nauman’s plays with its sonic potential, that we hear the neons sing.

My previous post from this book is here.




June 12, 2019

Re-complicating Our View

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… making us consider the everyday ways in which we relate to it.

This is from Photography and Flight by Denis Cosgrove and William L. Fox (2010):

… Questions of privacy have been thrown into sharp relief by the spread of CCTV in city public spaces and the ubiquity of the Google Earth images we have already discussed. Urban artist David Deutsch, educated in Los Angeles but now living in New York, explores these concerns in his Nightsun series: black-and-white photos taken from helicopters at night that parody police search tactics. Indeed, he uses a powerful police searchlight to illuminate the ground, in this case revealing the random detritus of urban backyards, suburban front lawns, parking garages and the blank sides of anonymous buildings.

[line break added] The circular glare of the light, beyond which all detail is lost to darkness, imitates the vignette framed by a lens, reinforcing the reference to surveillance. While his daylight work over residential areas is shot in color and tends to feature neatly mown lawns and clean swimming pools, in the night work we are offered the image of a more chaotic and pathological city, as individuals whom we instantly take for criminals cross the image. What is actually revealed is a quotidian untidiness: old cars sinking into dead turf, jumbled plastic furniture, garbage cans askew. Deutsch’s surveillance is not directed at individual acts, but at urban society in general.

[ … ]

… Perhaps the impulse to picture the world from above was never simply to document and comprehend it from the elevated godlike view provided by altitude, but rather is a creative act in all cases. Photography and powered flight have extended both these aspects of the view from above, and increasingly allow us to parse the condition of the world and its inhabitants in real time, all the time and everywhere.

[line break added] On our home computers the aerial view is becoming increasingly banal, but aerial artists are using the camera to create wholly new images of extraordinary reach and power, images that deepen our understanding of the world beyond its surface appearances, sometimes by re-complicating our view of it, but always making us consider the everyday ways in which we relate to it.

My previous post from this book is here.




June 11, 2019

Two Completely Different Things

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:13 am

… though form and content can influence one another they can never turn into one another.

Continuing through The Sociology of Art by Arnold Hauser, translated by Kenneth J. Northcott (1982):

… Human and social values which do not appear in an aesthetically successful form are artistically nonexistent. The priority of form over content does not here signal a one-sided formalism but, on the contrary, simply means that the form of the transmission of content must be available and at the artist’s disposal.

… What makes someone an artist is not the thing which he undertakes to depict, to recommend, and to praise but the way in which he does it; what makes someone a great artist is, however, the thing which he is prepared to stand up for and for which he is willing to use his talent.

… Form and content are two completely different things — the most conceivably different — although they can also only be conceived in relation to one another. Their difference, even their contradictory natures, simply cannot be eliminated from art, which might be defined as a tension which exists between the two.

… Just as every artistic object only makes an impression through its form, even the most embryonic and simple form owes its effect to the tension between a need to express content and a formal striving for expression.

… Yet form still means something which is beyond the material, something which cannot be reduced to the material, and something which is not to be derived from it. Form may contain spontaneous elements, but it is also an impediment, a borderline, even the antithesis of spontaneity.

… Form and content are stimulated and furthered by one another in their development. Formal completeness is achieved when some content is rejected and the remainder thereby becomes portrayable. The development of form and content is not a one-sided process aimed in one or the other direction but a series of questions and answers, of ever more entangled problems and ever more far-reaching solutions, ever more differentiated presuppositions and ever more complicated effects.

[line break added] To call this process, consisting as it does in reciprocal steps, the merging of the one into the other not only explains nothing but conceals the fact that though form and content can influence one another they can never turn into one another.

My most recent previous post from Hauser’s book is here.




June 10, 2019

Energy Not Yet Aware of Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:09 am

… For what is matter but ‘a particular and very condensed form of energy’ …

This is from ‘The Alchemist’s Workshop’ by Pennina Barnett (1997):

… Yet if one has to start somewhere, why not a workshop bench, cluttered with tools and materials — paint brushes, a rusting funnel and jug; cans, bottles, jars; pans darkened with dried pigment; wire, rags, rope and nails; a pile of dismembered books, spines battered and torn from their covers; a yellowing wall smeared with paint?

Or the white space of commodification: an art gallery, tucked away in a side street in some European metropolis. Open out of hours, we have the place to ourselves and are self-conscious in our looking … The work disturbs, silences: crates filled with heavy grey matter; stacks of worn stretchers; rows of jars, tightly sealed containing an amorphous black stuff, almost foetal.

[line break added] Wooden trays filled with small hessian sachets, soft balls of horsehair, tiny bundles of cloth — like dried putrefied fruit, or miniature corpses, bound and laid out after what disaster? Endlessly repeated, obsessively classified, each object bears the same distinctive label: Product of Chohreh Feyzdjou. What to make of this work: its materiality, repetition, and the film of darkness that has settled upon it?

The Paris-based writer and academic Youssef Ishaghpour likens the ‘products’ to those of a color merchant who only sells black (darkness); and the world Feyzdjou creates to an apocalyptic bazaar, for

… there is no longer anything which is not a product except precisely the nothing. And it is perhaps of this nothing that the ‘Products’ of Chohreh Feyzdjou bear witness, as if she is holding up a mirror to the world … [whose] gaudiness … is ‘reproduced’ in a revealing negative.

[ … ]

… For what is matter but ‘a particular and very condensed form of energy,’ ‘energy not yet aware of itself’ — a ‘nothingness of being which could also be a beginning.’




June 9, 2019

In Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:11 am

… The differences by which we bake the bread of our daily hatreds, of our carnal contempts and of our little bits of knowledge thin down into an imperceptible duration …

This is from The Incandescent by Michel Serres, translated by Randolph Burks (2003; 2018):

… In a few days the doll, in torn clothes, will be missing an arm, soon pulled off; in two years the child will have to leave for school in the morning. These walls will still be standing; she will believe them to be immobile her entire life, at least lasting. Her father who coated them because he saw them wearing away has, ever since his childhood, thought that the mountain was stable.

[ … ]

… Who am I? Not only a step of the ladder, for the age of civil status, but also the successive rungs or a good bit of its length. I spread my time over the world’s duration, or rather I plunge into the entirety of its time. Composed of varied rhythms, my body goes from the ephemeral to millions of centuries, in sum so old that my life and history itself scarcely matter.

… We far exceed our history. Our gestures, sensations, desires, intuitions and feelings connect, in real time, a thousand incomparable dates … [O]ur body understands this ladder since the ladder forms it; our body climbs or descends it almost in its totality since our body knows how to evaluate it. The history that begins with writing and the duration of my own life amounts to a few steps among these countless rungs.

… Suddenly summarized for each of us in nine months of gestation, a dizzying whirlwind, this contingent masterpiece required billions of years of attempts, errors and deaths as well as this gestation, fast and successful, in order to last merely a few decades and perpetuate itself by procreating. I am measuring at the same time its long strength and its short fragility. Three years or seventy: what youth, what brevity in comparison to the enormous archaism and slowness of our composition.

… Rock ptarmigan and chamois, the grass of the fields and reeds, the lengths of these existences scarcely last a blink of an eye in comparison with the length of life, counted on molecules and atoms, whose flood traverses everyone and which, in me, shines and burns. De senectute vitae: here then is a true oldness, common to the dying and the newborn, to little girls and grandmothers, to animals and plants, to friends and enemies, all of the bearers of a DNA, all of them equal in time …

… The differences by which we bake the bread of our daily hatreds, of our carnal contempts and of our little bits of knowledge thin down into an imperceptible duration; historical influences have little weight next to the immensely long causes that formed this or that neuron whose excitation contributes to this perception or that emotion.




June 8, 2019

Spots Distributed

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:17 am

… another, this time random, mesh of colored particles tells the story.

This is from ‘On Kent State‘ by Richard Hamilton (1970):

A ciné-camera films an event on a university campus in Ohio, USA. The scene filmed, almost by chance, in conditions not conducive to rational operation, happens at a pace hardly permitting accurate exposure or focus. The information recorded in the emulsion is urgent: it is processed and put into the hands of an American TV network or news agency which transforms the image in the film frames into electronic signals later beamed at an antenna on a satellite orbiting the earth. The satellite passes on the signals to a tracking station in the South of England and electrons are ‘piped’ to a recorder which duly notes the facts on a magnetic tape.

That evening, the message is re-transmitted as part of a BBC news broadcast to be detected by a TV receiver; information is decoded and divided among three guns in its cathode-ray tube. They spurt out streams of electrons which excite, to varying intensities, spots distributed evenly in triads over the surface of the tube. Red, blue and green dots blink as they are scanned.

Staring at the screen is a still camera. Still, until with a sudden snap it gulps the moving picture (if it was 8mm originally 16 frames per second scanned 25 times per second, a gulp equaled 2 frames scanned 3 times). What does the subject feel buried in a layer of gelatin in the darkness? ‘There is no known way to detect a latent image in a photographic emulsion except the process of development.’ Out of the chemicals into the light another, this time random, mesh of colored particles tells the story. The same message is there — the tone of voice is new, a different dialect, another syntax; but truly spoken.




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