Unreal Nature

August 26, 2016

Our Uttered or Outered Senses

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… we can translate more and more of ourselves into other forms of expression that exceed ourselves.

This is from ‘Reversal of the Overheated Medium’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… When Sputnik had first gone into orbit a schoolteacher asked her second-graders to write some verse on the subject. One child wrote:

The stars are so big,
The earth is so small,
Stay as you are.

With man his knowledge and the process of obtaining knowledge are of equal magnitude. Our ability to apprehend galaxies and subatomic structures, as well, is a movement of faculties that include and transcend them. The second-grader who wrote the words above lives in a world much vaster than any which a scientist today has instruments to measure, or concepts to describe. As W.B. Yeats wrote of this reversal, “The visible world is no longer a reality and the unseen world is no longer a dream.”

Associated with this transformation of the real world into science fiction is the reversal now proceeding apace, by which the Western world is going Eastern, even as the East goes Western.

This next is from ‘Media as Translators’:

… What we call “mechanization” is a translation of nature, and of our own natures, into amplified and specialized forms.

… It is all capsulated in the popular variant on Robert Browning: “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor.” All media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms. The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way.

[line break added] Words are a kind of information retrieval that can range over the total environment and experience at high speed. Words are complex systems of metaphors and symbols that translate experience into our uttered or outered senses. They are a technology of explicitness. By means of translation of immediate sense experience into vocal symbols the entire world can be evoked and retrieved at any instant.

In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness. That is what is meant when we say that we daily know more and more about man. We mean that we can translate more and more of ourselves into other forms of expression that exceed ourselves.

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




August 25, 2016

Acts of Seeing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… one … difference … arises out of the distinction between a documentary’s acts of showing and Brakhage’s (antithetical) acts of seeing.

This is from the essay ‘Seeing with Experimental Eyes: Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes‘ by Bart Testa found in Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video edited by Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski (1998):

… We can readily imagine watching another equally explicit movie of autopsies; but very likely we will also imagine that such a film would allow us to slip behind verbal explanations of the pathologists’ procedures, analyses of the cause of death, or perhaps some moral argument that necessitates showing such images.

[line break added] However, as Bill Nichols notes, none of these familiar viewing strategies is on offer here: “We witness what exceeds our sight and grasp. The camera gazes. It presents evidence destined to disturb. The evidence cries out for argument, some interpretive frame within which to comprehend it. Nowhere is this need more acutely felt than in a film that refuses to provide any explanatory commentary whatsoever.”

… Ideally, in a well-made documentary there is a symmetry in the exchange of signifying relations between images and “interpretive frames,” and this exchange makes showing and explanation a unity. This is the case whether the images are made to illustrate the steps of a technical process (as in, say, a medical or industrial education film) or to provide forceful evidence for a moral or political argument. The uses of images in documentary filmmaking hold in common the role of performing what, in simple summary terms, could be called acts of showing.

… To illustrate a procedure that needs to be explained, for example, or to support a moral argument, provides a ready-made position from which to comprehend what is shown. By creating such a position, which is what structures of understanding do, even traumatic images are softened by making them significant evidence within an interpretive frame.

[line break added] The act of showing implants images within a wider and controlling function of meaning. This implantation subordinates seeing images as literal presentations to the higher-order process of argumentation. Witnessing and seeing recede, to a greater or lesser degree, behind signification and showing.

This is a film that completely dispenses with any verbal explanation. It is not a film about showing, but about bringing us very close to actual bodies in a morgue; in other words, it is a film rigorously about seeing. It remains at a literal level of confrontation with a truth, which is why Nichols says it “exceeds our sight and grasp”: Brakhage’s film restricts its means to an act of seeing, and seeing this, as the direct witness to bodies under autopsy.

… I have already suggested one limited but sharp difference between Brakhage’s film and documentary practice: it arises out of the distinction between a documentary’s acts of showing and Brakhage’s (antithetical) acts of seeing. Further, Nichols has isolated a significant positive structural feature that allows us to distinguish the efforts of documentarians from the exertions of experimental filmmakers.

[line break added] Documentarians are committed to exposition, explanation, and argument of kinds that are shared by the socially defined “discourses of sobriety,” those recognized as serious explanations of truth, such as science, politics, and religion. Documentary’s “interpretive frames” are homologies of socially recognized, knowable, and understood meanings. Avant-garde cinema, in contrast, often pursues less socially recognized sorts of meaning; artists are drawn to subject matter that goes unaccounted by, or seems incomprehensible, mysterious, and/or forbidden to “sober discourse.”

[line break added] Arguments and interpretations of the sober type are very often ignored by experimentalists in favor of exploratory and hence unfamiliar aesthetic, philosophical, and poetic structures of expression, many of which are not actually assimilable to “discursive” forms at all. This is true of Brakhage’s film. It completely abandons verbal argument and other ready “interpretive frames” and deliberately focuses on what seems, in principle, to be unknowable and mysterious — the spectacle of death.

Brakhage times and paces the shots, and frames sequences, so none remains long enough or repeats often enough to desensitize the viewer. We are never allowed to get used to the film’s imagery, to watch it as part of a procedural routine, and so not see it. The act of seeing, its shock and troubling power, is constantly renewed. Indeed, the images are so relentlessly literal and, in the main, so clearly shot that all there seem to be in this film are successive acts of seeing, and seeing this. And this seeing is itself, Brakhage seems to imply, the film’s moral end.




August 24, 2016

The City, with All Its Raging Signals

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… There are no resources left but pure observation.

This is from Beyond Japan: A Photo Theatre by Mark Holborn (1991):

Klein had overturned photography, particularly the objective disciplines of Cartier-Bresson, which were dominant in Europe. He incorporated distortion, blur, wide-angle views and grain into his vocabulary and created a new dynamic. It was a great moment in the history of the medium, as rough and roaring as the first howling sounds of an amplified guitar. The book had a kinetic form in correspondence to the dynamic of the city. It was nearer to the spirit of music or the abstraction of painting than to photography.

[line break added] The pace was like that of film, creating a cumulative layering of imagery. Purity, reduction, and the art of simplification expressed in the metaphysics of American photography from Stieglitz to Weston had been displaced by a collage effect, by density and bold graphic strokes like those of a painter. Klein had photographed a world in flux; he had found the language of chaos. For astute Japanese, he offered a strategy with which they could encounter the layers of their own chaos.

… When he [Klein] arrived there [in Tokyo in the early ’60s], all he saw were photographs that looked like his own. Such was the strength of his influence that Klein, ‘the Barbarian,’ crossed from West to East, to find the distorted mirror image of his own work. Indeed, when the Japanese printers worked on [Klein’s book] Tokyo, they missed the mid-tone greys that Klein was exploring, and they printed the work in stark black and white contrast, in imitation of his earlier work. At all levels Klein’s language was both absorbed and imitated.

While the circle of culture recycled Klein, the world he entered was as unfamiliar as another planet, where he had no scores to settle and where he knew nothing of the language or social gestures. Besides the inherent qualities of a hieroglyphic sign language and the density of the Japanese city, the street offered Klein a purely detached graphic experience. Every action was ritualized. Whether he was in the gym, at the Kabuki theatre, on a street in the Ginza, or at a sports stadium, he was observing the flow of ceremony. The city itself became theatre.

[ … ]

Masatoshi Naitoh

Naitoh was digging like an archaeologist beneath the layers of the city to find the ghosts of Edo, the remnants of the foundations of the city. In the introduction to Tokyo (1985), Naitoh pointed out that four centuries ago, the site of Tokyo was a wilderness that grew into Edo, the largest city in the world, in the space of a single century.

[line break added] The city foundations were connected to traditions of magic with the founding of the Imperial Palace as the central axis, from which the city radiated out according to geomantic tradition. In his search for archaic evidence he found a cast of demonic characters, witches and guardians of this other world.

Masatoshi Naitoh

… Like Naitoh, Hijikata often referred to darkness as a source of the imagination. Naitoh now talks of a loss of darkness and his work has been published with an emphatically dark aesthetic. The luminous, electric city is a challenge to his archaic shadow land. More than fifty years ago Junichiro Tanizaki had defined darkness as residual in the Japanese imagination in his essay In Praise of Shadows.

[line break addedNaitoh finds a true Japan in the contradictory roles of yamabushi in the mountains of the far north and as an inhabitant of the sprawling megalopolis of the future. In Tokyo he stalks the darkest alleys where the shadow world is preserved and which the blazing lights can never reach.

Masatoshi Naitoh

[ … ]

… Sometimes, after weeks of no contact with the outside, I have walked to the densest intersection of the city and felt invisible. A huge crowd, whose language I do not speak, whose body gestures I do not fully understand, walks past me, envelops me, and shows no sign of recognition. That point is the axis, the center of the map.

[line break added] Theories of Japan are displaced by the sheer momentum of experience. The borrowed imagery of film and photographs is discarded as if I had actually entered a film and was participating on the screen I was witnessing. There are no resources left but pure observation. The city, with all its raging signals displayed around me, is an abstract wall. I engage with the inhabitants as through a filter; they hardly see me.

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




August 23, 2016

A Mad Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

“… psychotic representation attests to a mad desire to reinstate convention, to reinvent order, which the psychotic feels to be broken and in desperate need of repair or replacement.”

Continuing through How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (2005):

… The marketplace notwithstanding, can the productions of people under extreme psychic duress communicate to us as “insiders,” and how must we change our attitudes about art in order to appreciate these works? We need to tread carefully, and not just because these works have the power to unsettle. They may not be art at all, at least as we usually understand the word …

… Many outsiders have no sense that what they are making is an independent, expressive aesthetic object, whose purpose is communication and whose destiny is to be appreciated and contemplated by others, to be integrated into their world. In spite of the fact that works by outsiders are distinctive and apparently expressive, there is often a chilling impersonality about them, an indifference to any audience and to themselves as individuals. In some cases the “art” is a form of private communion, in others an apparently mechanical activity, and in still others the transcription of urgent communication from sources beyond the self. But the messages test the limits of intelligibility.

… Two broad categories of so-called mental illness — schizophrenia and autism — force us to ask the question, “Is it art?” The taste of our time has rehabilitated this work for appreciation and commercial sale, but that does not resolve the question, nor does it promote genuine understanding of the works themselves. To survive and find an audience, the work must endure both the current fashion for transgressive imagery and biography and, conversely, the many attempts to limit the art’s relevance by labeling it with a narrow symptomology.

… because for these artists the very act of object-making is itself an episode of integration, the art can often indulge gestures for their own sake, violent or playful games without any communicative purpose. While the artist works, he or she defers chaos and suspends contradictions, and the gestures of art become acts of temporary liberation, even in the midst of anger and fear.

… in schizophrenia, art is never part of the problem but always part of the solution, always evidence of an effected reconciliation between inner and outer experience. As critic Hal Foster puts it: “Far from avant-gardist in its revolt against artistic convention and symbolic order, psychotic representation attests to a mad desire to reinstate convention, to reinvent order, which the psychotic feels to be broken and in desperate need of repair or replacement.”

At this point we might ask: If such “art” does not necessarily attempt to construct coherent images or communicate a message, or if the message is so deeply sequestered that its intended meaning cannot be coaxed out by any audience, what value can the work have for us? These questions seem to miss the most cherished virtue of art, certainly for critics, that is, its “depth,” its multiple levels of available significance.

One answer is that works of art can seize our attention and make connection in other ways. First and foremost, the work of these outsiders can show us forms in combinations and relations that have never been forged before. The imagery can act as visual poetry, illuminating in a sudden flash the fugitive connections between things and ideas, or forms and feelings.

… To hunt for [meaning] in the psyche of the creator is chimerical. To believe it inheres exclusively in the order of the work — an order that may be unintelligible — is fruitless. We are to discover personal resonances and visual analogies with other art. The structure of the work sets the parameters of what we see, but we intuit or deduce further connections within the work itself and to our own experience.

Rexer hasn’t answered his own question: “Is it art?”

My previous post from Rexer’s book is here.




August 22, 2016

Art’s Hidden But Persistent Narrativity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… It tells of those larger movements of the artist’s personality, his persistence, his intuitiveness, his cunning, his triumph.

This is from MoMA curator Laura Rosenstock’s Introduction to Richard Serra/Sculpture (1986):

Serra’s works involve the viewer in this creative, exploratory process. They heighten perceptual awareness and virtually force interaction. They compel the viewer to confront his experience and perception of them in relation to both space and time and to focus on their physical properties and the manner in which they were created.

[line break added] All Serra’s sculptures are concerned with what can actually be experienced and observed. Some reveal the process of their making, some clarify aspects of their physical properties, and others redefine the nature of the space they occupy. It is only in tracing these interactions, in “working” to understand the pieces, that they become fully comprehendible and meaningful.

[ … ]

… The artist himself has said: “The structures are the result of experimentation and invention. In every search there is always a degree of unforeseeability, a sort of troubling feeling, a wonder after the work is complete, after the conclusion. The part of the work which surprises me, invariably leads to new works.” For Serra, “most work comes out of work and out of the perception of work.”

[line break added] His structures evolve from earlier pieces and from his experience of those pieces. The viewer, too, must “work” to understand the pieces. By participating in the work, by confronting his perceptions and exploring the paths revealed by the sculptures, the viewer discovers the complexity and meaning of the structures and ultimately shares in the excitement the artist derives from his work.


The following is from Rosalind Krauss’s essay in the book (the essay title is the same as the book title):

… One of the founding arguments about visual art’s relation to narrative turns on the essential distinction between the medium of narration — time — and that of the depicted image — space. In this difference, Gotthold Lessing had argued in the Laocoön (1766), one should locate both the separate problems of the various aesthetic mediums as well as the genius particular to each.

[line break added] He concluded that the problem for the visual artist, who is limited to just one moment in a narrative sequence, is to find the most suggestive or most pregnant moment, the one that will imply both what has already happened and what is to come.

… [The] supposed voiding of narrative within Modernism is, however, only seeming. For Modernist art’s simultaneity is still understood as a “most pregnant moment” — an experience extended and made replete with a certain kind of understanding, a certain kind of ecstatic or spiritual dilation, a certain kind of drive to completion. Within this situation, the genre of the Portrait of the Artist has a special role.

[line break added] It is the signifier of art’s hidden but persistent narrativity; for the unfolding of the artist’s gesture in this work, which is a model on a small scale for the larger unfolding of all his gestures into that totality of his works to which we give the name oeuvre, this is the story of the artist that each portrait can encapsulate. It tells of those larger movements of the artist’s personality, his persistence, his intuitiveness, his cunning, his triumph.





August 21, 2016

The Quiet Which She Moves In

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… I don’t doubt that so great an artist will soon tire of the effects she now toys with.

This is from ‘Markova at Ballet Theatre’ [April, 1945] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

Miss Markova’s delicacy in lightness, in rapidity; the quickness in the thighs, the arrowy flexibility of the instep; her responsiveness in the torso, the poise of the arms, the sweetness of the wrists, the grace of neck and head — all this is extraordinary. But her dancing is based on a rarer virtue. It is the quiet which she moves in, an instinct for the melody of movement as it deploys and subsides in the silence of time, that is the most refined of rhythmic delights. The sense of serenity in animation she creates is as touching as that of a Mozart melody.

She is a completely objective artist. Who Markova is, nobody knows. what you see on the stage is the piece she performs, the character she acts. She shows you, as only the greatest of actresses do, a completely fascinating impersonation, completely fascinating because you recognize a heroine of the imagination who finds out all about vanity and love and authority and death. You watch her discover them.

The following is from ‘Markova’s Failing’ [November, 1945]:

Ballet Theatre’s season, which closes tonight, has been very successful commercially, but artistically it leaves a disappointing impression, and one of its unexpected disappointments has been the lessening of Markova’s marvelous magic.

… One sees climaxes this season (in Nutcracker and Aurora) that are tricked out with flicks of the head in pirouettes, with flicks of the wrist in poses; one notices (in Giselle, too) the wrists beating time in sustained passages, and broad smiles held throughout a classic number. She seems, no doubt unconsciously, to indicate a discourteous aversion to dancing with Eglevsky and Kriza; and in dancing with Dolin she sometimes gives the effect of a private understanding between them — as is customary and proper in exhibition ballroom dancing but hardly in great classic roles.

… I don’t doubt that so great an artist will soon tire of the effects she now toys with.

Alicia Markova

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




August 20, 2016

A Rich and Delirious Landscape

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Everyday life upon the land has evolved a rich and delirious landscape …

This is from the essay ‘Aerial Representation’ found in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990– 2010 (2014):

… When one enters a conversation, participates in a dance, or sits to eat with friends, a sense of what constitutes appropriate behavior and response prevails. In philosophical terms, this self-awareness of measure is called “practical wisdom”: one is conscious of the quantities, properties, and limits of one’s being within a particular circumstance, and is aware of how to extend and foster kinship with others. By extending oneself with due measure (which is what ensues in any conversation or dance), one overcomes separation and distance to construct relationship and dialogue.

… In an age of precision and advanced technological resources, people are at once both closer to and more estranged from the earth and one another. On the one hand, standard and universal measures — each mathematically precise beyond any perceptible tolerance of magnitude — have fostered global cooperation and mutual understanding, thereby diminishing the threat of despotic tyranny and misrepresentation while providing new and advanced forms of medicine, communication, and technology.

[line break added] On the other hand, both the uniqueness and relatedness of things and places are objectified and diminished through modern measures, promoting forms of homogeneity and alienation. Just as overspecification and oversimplification are the results of modern measure, so too are freedom and constraint, accessibility and estrangement.

… Of course, the reverse of this situation is that the abstract systems of technology are both resisted and absorbed by prevailing social, cultural, and natural realities. Technological measure itself has no home; it is autonomous and free-wheeling. Yet, when applied, it must always touch down somewhere at some time and must therefore become engaged with the wild forces of place and time.

[line break added] Here, the system will inevitably yield, further thickening and evolving the quarry of cultural and biological life. For example, for all of its assumed monotony, the U.S. Rectangular Survey System is incredibly rich and diverse when experienced firsthand; the land, the passages of time, and the peculiarities of subsequent settlements have resisted and absorbed the ideality of the rational and repetitive scheme — a scheme that, in fact, facilitated fair and accessible opportunity for democratic settlement and land ownership.

[line break added] Although there are places where lines do not quite meet up, where roads are not straight or true, where property lines take strange and irregular turns, and where the rectilinear order breaks down, it is the system that bends — albeit unwittingly. Everyday life upon the land has evolved a rich and delirious landscape, a complex imbroglio of farmsteads, diners, gas stations, crop dusters, motels, floods, tornadoes, baseball, cornfields, towns, hillsides, plains, conversations, arguments, dances, sunrise, snow, and drought.

[line break added] This same richness, accrued through a kind of inevitable errancy, might also describe other technological constructions upon the land. Biosphere 2, in Arizona, for example, is a completely sealed and self-sustaining environment, a mathematically modeled container that continues to fail owing to its incapacity to allow for human desire, error, mischief, and change.

[line break added] Similarly, many large-scale urban planning projects have failed in the twentieth century precisely because of this suppression of the volatile, complex, and unnavigable forces of the inevitably promiscuous city. The techniques and measures of contemporary urban planning are simply incongruent to their object.

Biosphere 2

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




August 19, 2016

The Cool One Includes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… The passive consumer wants packages, but those, he suggested, who are concerned in pursuing knowledge and in seeking causes will resort to aphorisms, just because they are incomplete and require participation in depth.

This is from ‘Media Hot and Cold’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… speech is a cool medium of low definition because so little is given and so much has to be filled in by the listener. On the other hand, hot media do not leave so much to be filled in or completed by the audience. Hot media are, therefore, low in participation, and cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience.

… our own time is crowded with examples of the principle that the hot form excludes, and the cool one includes.

… Intensity or high definition engenders specialism and fragmentation in living as in entertainment, which explains why any intense experience must be “forgotten,” “censored,” and reduced to a very cool state before it can be “learned” or assimilated.

… it makes all the difference whether a hot medium is used in a not or a cool culture. The hot radio medium used in cool or nonliterate cultures has a violent effect, quite unlike its effect, say in England or America, where radio is felt as entertainment. A cool or low literacy culture cannot accept hot media like movies or radio as entertainment. They are at least as radically upsetting for them as the cool TV medium has proved to be for our high literacy world.

… The neat tight package is suited to hot media, like radio and gramophone. Francis Bacon never tired of contrasting hot and cool prose. Writing in “methods” or complete packages, he contrasted with writing in aphorisms, or single observations such as “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.” The passive consumer wants packages, but those, he suggested, who are concerned in pursuing knowledge and in seeking causes will resort to aphorisms, just because they are incomplete and require participation in depth.

… “Comfort” consists in abandoning a visual arrangement in favor of one that permits casual participation of the senses, a state that is excluded when any one sense, but especially the visual sense, is hotted up to the point of dominant command of a situation.

On the other hand, in experiments in which all outer sensation is withdrawn, the subject begins a furious fill-in or completion of senses that is sheer hallucination. So the hotting-up of one sense tends to effect hypnosis, and the cooling of all sense tends to result in hallucination.

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




August 18, 2016

Man Is Wolf to Man and Every Night Is a Full Moon

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… It seems that old question of why are we here, and not getting a satisfactory answer, makes man’s fate intolerable.

This is from the essay ‘Inner City Blues’ by Charles Burnett found in Questions of Third Cinema edited by Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (1989):

… The question is how does one who is dissatisfied with the way things are going set about transforming society? To whom and to what should one direct the message and what will be the spark, the messianic message, to motivate people into altering their habits when reality hasn’t made a stir, when the realization of death itself has failed?

[line break added] However, time and again, you find in the testimony of ex-addicts and alcoholics that what made them stop and go cold turkey was that after years of destroying themselves, they looked in the mirror one day and did not recognize the person staring back at them. And having tried to change drug addicts, I was warned that no matter what logic, no matter what emotional appeal I used, it would have no effect on that person until he or she was ready to change; it is when the person has arrived at the conclusion that he or she needs help.

[ … ]

… One of the features of my community is that it does not have a center, does not have an elder statesman, and more important, does not have roots; in essence it is just a wall with graffiti written on it. Life is going to work, coming home, making sure every entrance is firmly locked to keep the thugs out, thinking on how to move up in the world or being a member of a street gang standing at neighborhood corners, thinking about nothing and going nowhere.

… Those who live a healthy existence, meaning those who live on the other side of the tracks, gain knowledge through learning, and those who live on my side of the tracks learned about the world through conditioning based on pain and pleasure, and what has developed as a consequence is that man is wolf to man and every night is a full moon.

… In trying to find the cure, what person do you address? It is not a matter of informing someone of the truth, the facts, reality; it is only when he finds that he can’t live with himself, when he has stopped deluding himself. The way back is redemption.

If film is to aid in this process of redemption, how does it work its magic? It seems that old question of why are we here, and not getting a satisfactory answer, makes man’s fate intolerable. I think that it is the little personal things that begin to give a hint of the larger picture. The story has the effect of allowing us to comprehend things we cannot see, namely feelings and relationships.

[line break added] It may not give you answers but it will allow you to appreciate life and maybe that is the issue, the ability to find life wonderful and mysterious. If the story is such, film can be a form of experience, and what is essential is to understand that one has to work on how to be good, compassionate. One has to approach it like a job. Until there is a sharing of experiences, every man is an island and the inner city will always be a wasteland.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




August 17, 2016

Eros and Power

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… Any space can become theatrical space …

This is from Beyond Japan: A Photo Theatre by Mark Holborn (1991):

… The international opposition to the Vietnam War and the specific Japanese riots within the universities and out on the Sanrizuka plain created a climate of revolt and a language that also found expression in acts of artistic liberation. The force of rebellion released a storm of vitality. The demonstrations became cathartic forms of public theatre.

[line break added] In artistic terms the city was to become a stage, though the tear gas, batons and blood were real. History seemed more theatrical than theatre itself. History could coincide with the choreographed cinematic imagery of revolt so famously depicted by Sergei Eisenstein. Two decades later Tiananmen Square provided an international spectacle that seemed epic, even operatic, since the action was largely contained within a single arena.

[line break added] The reality of the savagery was hidden from the public on the morning after the bloodshed when the approach roads were literally draped with curtains, which concealed the activities of the ‘stage hands’ as they swept away the debris of the previous night. Then the government declared the play was over.

[line break added] Shuji Terayama, poet, dramatist, filmmaker and creative genius of the late Sixties Tokyo underground, later announced in his Manifesto of 1975 that, “The theatre is neither a set of factors nor a building. It is the ideology of a place where dramatic encounters are created … Any space can become theatrical space … Theatre is chaos.”

[ … ]

Shomei Tomatsu, Okinawa, Okinawa, Okinawa, 1969

… Coupled with [Shomei Tomatsu’s] fascination for life in the separate world of the [US military] bases was his frequent travel to Okinawa, where he found island communities of farmers and fishermen living with archaic values that once prevailed on the islands of Japan itself. He discovered an animistic culture in contact with the elements and full of physical exuberance amidst the great beauty and fecundity of the landscape.

[line break added] For Tomatsu, Okinawa fulfilled his own fantasy of ‘Japan,’ or of a Japan that could never be. On Okinawa this fantasy existed beside the presence of the American bases. It was here that the clash of cultures was most explicit and this became the subject of his work.

In his book, Okinawa (1969), Tomatsu forced the juxtaposition of the American military — the wire fences, jeeps, bombers, hardware, combat cloth — into graphic conflict with the sheer physical density of the island and the poverty and simplicity of the lives of the islanders. Planes take off and land throughout the book. With the servicemen comes the secondary industry of sex and recreation, the bars and small hotels, where the islanders serve the alien occupying forces.

Shinjuku, the epicenter of the Sixties revolt, was the subject of Tomatsu’s other book of the time. Oh, Shinjuku! (1969) was a violent and erotic homage to this extraordinary district of Tokyo. Shinjuku is centered around the enormous railway station and throughout the Eighties it has been the site of drastic redevelopment. Close to the station is a small maze of shops, noodle stalls and bars, representing an underworld in immediate proximity to the great department stores.

[line break added] In Shinjuku there is also the largest bookstore in the city, making it a natural meeting place for students. It is now one of the densest sites of teenage consumerism. The neon of Shinjuku is challenged by the television image on a giant, exterior screen, which continually broadcasts pop promotional videos. In the midst of this point of convergence is the district of Kabuki-cho, the territory of Shinjuku strip joints, yakuza, and bars. A closed, interior world of sex spreads out through its alleys.

Shinjuku in 1968 demonstrated a shocking equation between the political violence on the streets, full of shouting and adrenalin, with an interior world of female forms and the enactment of a form of sexual theatre. While the exterior world appeared to be howling in a great clash of protest, behind the doors of Shinjuku, another form of tension, frequently voyeuristic, appeared to be heightened.

[line break added] The protests were ultimately expressed in two famous photographs by Tomatsu: one blurred image shows a single man running across the street, which is strewn with debris, and is caught in a gesture of hurling his missile, while another photograph shows an army of police lined up with their shields as if to receive the missile.

[line break added] Tomatsu had intensified the sense of the conflict by an act of simple reduction to the single figure in the midst of the chaos. There is a third photograph, which bridges the worlds of Eros and Power, as Tomatsu defined them. A girl’s face contorts into a scream. On the ground beside her is a Molotov cocktail made from a Coca-Cola bottle.

My previous post from Holborn’s book is here.




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