Unreal Nature

October 14, 2019

Menace and Mockery

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… One always has a sense of being looked at from behind …

This is from ‘Jerusalem: Violence, space, and mimesis in the work of Paul Pfeiffer‘ by Lawrence Chua:

… In Perspective Study, one of Pfeiffer’s early works, a lone tent in a jungle serves as the stage for such a primal scene. The mob and the sacrifice are unseen but their presence is intimated through Pfeiffer’s use of space and video. When the piece was first exhibited in New York, it was located in a basement. Viewers made their way through the un-renovated bowels of a former garage in Harlem and encountered in one room a large screen with an image of a tent in a jungle.

[line break added] The image vibrated with the choppy hum of early technology. This visual static lent the image an immediate quality, suggesting it was a live scene. In the next room, a diorama of a jungle scene was mounted in a vitrine. Upon closer examination, the scene in the diorama bore a striking resemblance to the projected video. In fact, the video was being projected from within the vitrine.

[line break added] Perspective Study is perhaps one of the first of Pfeiffer’s works that actively engages with issues of space and scale to suggest a tension between “the real” and its facsimile. Floating in the dark emptiness of the basement, the video and the vitrine were engaged in their own elliptical dialogue: which was the copy of which? Was this the scene before or after something had happened?

… One always has a sense of being looked at from behind, of being monitored and of seeing something that should not be seen. In Pfeiffer’s case, the viewer is physically brought to see first from the perspective of the mob, and then from another, more objective vantage point that reveals the whole mimetic scene.

In this, as in all of Pfeiffer’s work, there is no attempt to master the ambivalence of the scene. Rather, the artist uses space to reveal our own participation in the spectacle of mimesis that has structured our historic reality. Doing so reminds us of the unstable nature of the viewer’s own subjectivity. By way of the shadows in the forest, the crowd on the sidelines, and the Greek chorus that echoes in the darkness, Pfeiffer’s work reminds us of the more tragic aspects of modernity, the violence that attends our triumphal accounts of democracy, and the ways that mimicry can return as menace and mockery.




October 13, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… you all become children.

Continuing through The Incandescent by Michel Serres, translated by Randolph Burks (2003; 2018):

… Let’s first look at our hands, our skin and those of our neighbors, whose texture dates back incredible epochs; we have murmured music, no doubt, for hundreds of thousands of years; let’s next contemplate hens, sparrows, oaks and reeds, companions that are sometimes even older than us by millions of years; let’s lastly consider the mountains, wind, sea and stars, by means of new clocks, to be a billion-year-old environment.

… From now on let’s all become immense old men according to the writing given, imprinted and decipherable in the secrecy of our bodies and before whose beauty unimaginable ancestors have buried their dead, have drawn, painted, sung and trembled with emotion for hundreds of thousands of years. Humanity as such, in its entirety, you, me, those near and those far, surpasses the patriarchs. Humanity attains the age of wisdom. Not in rare individuals venerated for this, but in community, as a species, within the secrecy of each and everyone’s bodies. You old philosophers, bearded prophets, Greek sages, Hindu ascetics, Tibetan monks, Brahminical gurus, sachems of the prairies, Christian priests, you all become children.

… a change of scale often results in subtle transformations in the very nature of things when they are put at various levels. Constructing a reduced model only requires paper or cardboard; building full-size needs steel. So going from local and singular cultures fragmented across the continents to the progressive scattering of a small human group into global space transforms our vision of the world and of duration. The mosaic of space gives way to a temporal crossfade.

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




October 12, 2019

Any Particular Tree

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… it forces us to cast aside the illusion to which people in high places are prone that the world we inhabit is spread out like a mosaic beneath our feet …

This is from Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture by Tim Ingold (2013):

… Of someone who is so caught up in the minutiae of life that they are unable to comprehend the overall picture, it is often said that they cannot tell the wood for the trees. To see the wood, it seems, you have to get out from among the trees and take a long view from a bare hilltop, or even from the air. Seen thus from afar, the wood appears to be laid like a mosaic over the contoured surface of the land.

[line break added] This is how the woods appeared to us from the summit of Mither Tap. But suppose that you rejoin us now as we descend from the heights and re-enter the wood. Are we once again overwhelmed by minutiae? Do we see only individual trees rather than the wood as a whole? Not a bit of it! To enter the wood and to find ourselves surrounded on all sides by trunks and branches is not just to undergo a change in focus, from distant to close-up, but to experience a radically different perception of the world.

[line break added] In this perception, the wood ceases to appear as an aggregate of individual trees. Perhaps the Oxford English Dictionary gets closer to the mark when it defines the wood as ‘trees collectively growing together.’ In the twisting, turning, gnarling, knotting and branching of its roots, trunk and limbs, each tree bears testimony to a process of growth that is continually responsive to that if its neighbors, as well as to rainfall, wind and light and the passage of the seasons.

[line break added] To perceive the wood from within is to become immersed in these ongoing entanglements of life. It is to see every tree not as a discrete bounded individual but as something more like a bundle of fibrous threads, tightly wound along the trunk but splaying out above ground in the canopy and below in the roots. And it is to see the wood no longer as a mosaic of individual pieces but as a labyrinth of thread lines.

So entangled are these lines that it is scarcely possible to say with any certainty where any particular tree ends and the rest of the world begins.

… It is paradoxically in the depths of the woods that the world opens up most fully to our perception, for it forces us to cast aside the illusion to which people in high places are prone that the world we inhabit is spread out like a mosaic beneath our feet, with its forms and patterns already impressed upon the physical substrate of nature.

… Though we may occupy a world of objects, to the occupant the contents of the world appear already locked into their final forms as though they had turned their backs on us. To inhabit the world, by contrast, is to join in the processes of formation.

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




October 11, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… the confusion in his psyche undermined his project …

This is from Writing Lives: Principia Biographica by Leon Edel (1984; 1959):

… “Transference” is at the core of all biographical writing but biographers resist this conception of their work. They reply they are simply going about their task and finding out what truths they can so that they may put together a cogent account of their subject’s life. What they fail to grasp — and it is extremely difficult to do so — is that, while they are about their business, their unconscious, or psyche, responds in more ways than they know to their sensory perceptions of their hero or heroine — that subject which has proved so attractive (or sometimes so hateful) that they are prepared to devote some years to their attempt to put it on paper.

… There are so many examples of transference in modern biography that we need not labor the question. But we might glance at the case of Mark Schorer since he was one of the few biographers who intuitively felt what was happening to him as he struggled to write the life of Sinclair Lewis.

Schorer is willing to see that he was involved in an unconscious process behind his conscious decisions:

I was challenged by what I unconsciously felt to be a strange affinity, an affinity perhaps only demonstrated by the fact that my literary tastes, as they matured, had moved about as far away from his [Lewis’s] as is possible. There was, of course, the obvious affinity of our beginnings — the same kind of raw small Midwestern towns, probably much the same kind of inept and unsuccessful boys in that particular man’s world. But I discovered many more, and many that were more subtle … all the careless writing, all the ill-conceived ambitions, all the bad manners, all the irrational fits of temper, all the excesses of conduct, all the immature lifelong frivolities and regrettable follies. That is a little of it. There is much more.

… He began by feeling that he and Lewis had much in common, but then he grew weary of Lewis and the transference shifted from positive to negative. That was why he used the word “burden” to describe his job of work — a job that in other circumstances could be a creative challenge. There are some fine passages of biographical writing in this heavy book. But the confusion in his psyche undermined his project and he was ultimately swamped by his too-abundant materials.

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




October 10, 2019

The Hollow of Its Entire Volume

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… it warns the spectator of the opening in himself of a similar absence.

This is from Portrait by Jean-Luc Nancy, translated by Sarah Clift and Simon Sparks (2018):

… In the portrait, in its portrait — in its “proper” portrait (an expression that could not be more ambiguous) — the other withdraws. The other withdraws in showing itself; it makes a retreat within its very expression. The portrayed other is also the withdrawn other. Consequently, the other who is recognized — if resemblance is the same as recognition — is also the other who becomes more unknown than before this recognition. He is more unknown because he is withdrawn in his alterity. But this retreat reveals the mystery of this alterity: it does not unveil the mystery but rather reveals that it is a matter of a mystery — and that there is no question of dispelling it.

… in some way every portrait functions like a death mask: it converts the absence of the person who is present into the presence of the person who is absent. There is the presence of a mask here, more than there is a masked presence; that is, at issue here is a presence that recovers nothing and expresses nothing but the hollow of its entire volume. A parallel demonstration is ipso facto given an imposing weight: it warns the spectator of the opening in himself of a similar absence.

The other withdraws into the abyss of its portrait — and it is in me that the echo of this retreat resonates.

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




October 9, 2019

Visiting Another Country Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… disappointment is important in my work.

This is from a conversation between Yilmaz Dziewior and Gabriel Orozco found in Gabriel Orozco: Natural Motion (2013):

[ … ]

Gabriel Orozco: … They are not just matter, but political material that is part of our history. A piece of clay, a river stone, a whale skeleton, or a car, they are very natural and very artificial at the same time, and also part of our lives, in the sense that the body is searching for a kind of contact, knowledge, experience and understanding of these materials, like concrete, metal and plastics and other organic materials. There is a process of ongoing comprehension, with the body behaving like a consuming machine.

[line break added] We live with machines but at the same time we organically personalize our experience with all these things. So I think that both aspects exist in my work; it’s not claiming to be a statement of craft at all. I think that would be very romantic and also problematic to claim a handmade authorship quality per se, because we continually exist between the two impersonalized realms.

[ … ]

GO: … I like to think my work undermines any prejudices about it. That’s why disappointment is important in my work. Because it questions expectations, but then something happens and you might be disappointed, you might be mesmerized, you might be happy, you might be intrigued, you might be indifferent. For me it’s a decision, it’s like visiting another country again or reading the same book again. It’s like reading the same poem again a year later, it’s not going to be the same.

[ … ]

GO: … You accept what you have. You make a decision and accept what’s happening. I go from A to B, and whatever happens between the two is the experience I’m going to have, because I took the decision to go from A to B and to have that experience. But if you just want to get to B blindly and you don’t pay attention to the process of getting there, you are probably going to miss C and get stuck forever in B, empty handed.

[line break added] That’s why the process of making something or going somewhere is very important. How you do it. But that doesn’t mean that in the end you have the answers. It means that eventually you arrive at point B with even more questions, but then you have the means or motivation to go somewhere else without being immobilized by your own answers.

My previous post from this book is here.




October 8, 2019

Every Alleged Understanding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… the past is essentially pointless and meaningless.

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

… A sudden illumination may open the path to new, as well as to old, art, but it does not spare the trouble which has to be taken to conquer it. The ear is essentially deaf to musically different impressions; the eye cannot react to painterly effects. This is the way in which the allegory in Schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena has to be understood; the conjurer produces his most spectacular work for an audience which turns out to be blind.

… Have they not gradually come to be what they now are? Is the growth still distinguishable in any way from the original stock? Has not the “authentic” Shakespeare or Cervantes disappeared once and for all? Is not the misunderstanding of them the unavoidable price which we have to pay for our relationship to them, of whatever kind that may be? Do we not see a cultural structure of the past only when we tear it from its original context and place it into the context of our own world view and culture?

[line break added] Is art to be different from philosophy, where (as we know) we usually find in our agreement with an earlier thinker that we are talking about the same things by different names and that apparently identical ideas always have their own function and correspondingly their own meaning?

… the past is essentially pointless and meaningless. It achieves meaning and importance only in relation to the present. For this reason every present creates a new past, and for this reason history always has to be written anew, artistic creations must be reinterpreted, and the works of world literature must be translated again. And for this reason — in spite of the reservations which may be justified with respect to complete historicism — it is by no means so wrong to state that every alleged understanding of the past includes a fatal misunderstanding , for the point of view itself from which we look at history and judge it does not lie outside history but is also a product of history.

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




October 7, 2019

Not In the Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… the gray acts like a chameleon within the structure …

This is from ‘Learning from Experience’ by Hans Janssen:

Piet Mondrian, Checkerboard with Light Colors

… Rectangles of the same color are concentrated together in some areas and diffused in others, and yet in general colors are evenly distributed over the entire surface. The composition has no midpoint and no center of gravity, nor does the distribution of the colors define a top or bottom in terms of dominance or weight. The blue, red and dark gray planes are the most static in their effect, forming fixed cores.

[line break added] There is more movement in the yellow, white and bright gray planes, probably because these surfaces are more lustrous; they do not absorb light but reflect it. Blue, red, and dark gray planes divide the picture surface and serve to differentiate the image; repetition in the grid is further disrupted by the varieties of textures present in the composition. Yet not only the format of the blue, red and dark gray planes but also their value and intensity are the same so that the color differences are more or less imperceptible. Identity is thus defined on one level and at the same time abolished on another.

The same applies to the three brighter and more dynamic colors. The eye is also unable to define these clearly, because all differences of value and intensity are annulled. The situation becomes even more complicated by the equal intensity of the yellow and dark gray planes whereby stasis and movement each infiltrate the other’s region. The eye is thus compelled to concentrate on small, individual planes and from there to carefully investigate the immediate surroundings. Yet going too far astray inevitably means starting anew and meeting with conformities of the same kind, so that the painting as a whole remains difficult to grasp; the image is elusive.

Piet Mondrian, Broadway Boogie Woogie

… the most salient point of comparison between these two paintings is found in the function of the disruptive blocks on the fragments of lines. Most of the crosses are marked with red or blue blocks. They are of the same value and stand in syncopated contrast to the bright yellow. On the other hand, the value of the gray blocks lies near the yellow.

[line break added] They too sometimes mark crosses within the linear structure, but owing to the corresponding value every gray block makes a breach in that structure and a bridge to the white of the large fields and color planes. As in Checkerboard with Light Colors the gray acts like a chameleon within the structure so as to undermine it from within. The gray is once again the destructive, lively element in the image, ensuring that Broadway Boogie Woogie lets itself be grasped not in the title but only in the experience of the image.




October 6, 2019

This Hardly Visible Scar

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:11 am

… We can never find or give anything of it except a fragment of thread …

Continuing through The Incandescent by Michel Serres, translated by Randolph Burks (2003; 2018):

… In each of us, amid the noise of our multicolored card or culture, there exists somewhere an indication of the Universal or of beauty, a trace that’s faint here, illegible there, elsewhere warm and sonorous, and sometimes, in a rare place, dazzling.

You will recognize a work of art by this mark, whose sign never deceives. Don’t give an inordinate amount of attention to the singular signature of this man or that woman, a signature scattered in the noise of the work itself, so particular it nears the closest vicinity of noise, but rather give your attention to its indication of absence, to a form, a sound, a word, emanating from a hole on universality, to the trace of a step marked on its blurred wax.

[line break added] The scar left on the envelope of a seed by the filament or nutritive cord breaking off is called the hilum. Nihilism rejects the very existence of this hilum, this filum, this hardly visible scar, this often broken thread attaching us to the species, the genus, living things and the world.

… Let’s seek the Universal less by making our way towards this infinity — our limitation would wear itself out doing so till the end of our lives — than its trace in the singular. It is hidden under a stone, in the straw of the stable, on the sparkle of your smile. Eternity itself sometimes seems to mix with passing time like the gold lost in the ducat or this perfume filling a moment with an herbal fragrance.

[line break added] We can never find or give anything of it except a fragment of thread and then pull this thin end up until it breaks — I would like to invent a hilism — but, like a straw of hay, it glimmers on the ordinary tablet of the work and of singular existences. The intensity of its light flickers.

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




October 5, 2019

That Terrible Fear

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… ‘It is the fear of not going fast enough, of letting the phantom escape …’

This is from Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture by Tim Ingold (2013):

… The artist Paul Klee famously described drawing as taking a line for a walk. The line that goes for a walk does not represent or prefigure anything. Quite unlike the straight line of Euclidean geometry, it does not connect predetermined points. On paper, it is the trace of a movement rather than a statement of intent.

[line break added] As we have already said of the anticipatory foresight of the skilled practitioner, it breaks a trail, continually launching forth from its tip and tracing a path as it goes. If design is to be the other side of drawing in this sense, then it would have to be about anticipating the future. Far from seeking finality and closure, it would be open-ended, dealing in hopes and dreams rather than plans and predictions.

… Unlike material bodies, however, hopes and dreams can fly: they are not bound to the spatio-temporal limits of earthly life. The difficulty is that in taking flight they can all too easily be lost. It is the task of design to go after them and bring them back.

… The architect Alvaro Siza compares the task of designing a building to tracking a character, or rather a host of characters, who are always slipping away from him. His predicament, he says, is not unlike that of the novelist, whose characters have a way of outrunning his capacity to write them down. It is vital not to lose them. In writing as in drawing, notes Serge Tisseron, thought ‘darts out like an unruly horse, which is later led back and tamed, bound to the line which the hand holds fast upon the paper.’

… ‘It is the fear of not going fast enough,’ wrote Charles Baudelaire, ‘of letting the phantom escape before the synthesis has been extracted and pinned down; it is that terrible fear that takes possession of all great artists and gives them such a passionate desire to become masters of every means of expression so that the orders of the brain may never be perverted by the hesitations of the hand.’ While the frenzy of creation that Baudelaire evokes so vividly sweeps practitioners ever forward as though on a wave crest, the hesitancy of the body and the weight of materials perpetually hold them back.

… It is precisely where the reach of the imagination meets the friction of materials, or where the forces of ambition rub up against the rough edges of the world, that human life is lived.

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




Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.