Unreal Nature

May 29, 2016

The Scent of Antiquity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… they have the look of fragile things that have come through.

This is from ‘The World Is Light’ by David Sylvester (1997) found in Writings on Cy Twombly edited by Nicola Del Roscio (2002):

Light clings to great sculpture rather as the fog in Prufrock curls about the house. Not quite like that. The house is passive and the fog allowed to move in and take possession. Sculpture is active. Sculpture breathes light.

… Actually, [Twombly’s] paintings, too, often induce the sensation that they are breathing light — an experience less common in looking at painting than at sculpture.

Cy Twombly, Cycnus, 1978

… The view revealed in the paintings (and drawings) has been marvelously evoked by Robert Rosenblum, and his words are worth reprinting at length: “The elbow and shoulder movements of de Kooning and Pollock are replaced by a gentler calligraphy of wrist and finger. The raucous, colliding tracks of movement give way to a more muted, whispered ambience, as if we were experiencing through many veils of memory the record of some earlier actions and thoughts that had gradually been effaced both by long exposure and by later overlays of graffiti.

[line break added] Indeed, though the works of Pollock and de Kooning tend to speak in the present tense of an immediacy of visual and emotional outpourings, Twombly’s canvas already speaks in a kind of layered past tense, in which we recognise long-ago beginnings and erasures, near-invisible strata that lie below the surface like ghost memories of earlier impulses.”

Rosenblum proceeds to relate this atmosphere to the artist’s “sensibility to that derelict but pulse-quickening urban environment which also nurtured Rauschenberg so richly in the 1950s, a microcosm of infinite density where every city wall and public sign might be defaced by layer after layer of random scribbles. … And here, within this Lascaux of the twentieth century, tantalising suggestions of letters and words surface and disappear, illegible brambles that leave traces of lost or as yet unformed inscriptions.

” … Among the other triumphs of Twombly’s sensibility is the sense of seizing an organic world of change and progress at once rapid, attuned to the pursuit of a private impulse, and of long duration, attuned to what feels like decades and centuries of public historical layering, comparable to an archaeological sites of multiple strata.”

The sculptures are quite literally like objects from archaeological sites, in form and in character. They carry the scars of growth and decay, of wear and tear, they have the look of fragile things that have come through. And they have the look too of the residue not off an individual life but of a culture.

[line break added] Even more than the paintings — because those do so more through scrawled names than formal attributes — the sculptures fulfill Twombly’s passion for seeing the persistence of the past into the present, a passion that is evident in his conversation whenever some place somewhere is mentioned and he at once starts talking about the more dramatic or bizarre moments of its history. The sculptures have the scent of antiquity — often of Asian antiquity — in ways that the paintings can’t.

Cy Twombly, Aurora, 1981

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 28, 2016

The Right Tail

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… what possible criterion can validate this claim … ?

This is from Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin by Stephen Jay Gould (1996):

… I believe that the most knowledgeable students of life’s history have always sensed the failure of the fossil record to supply the most desired ingredient of Western comfort: a clear signal of progress measured as some form of steadily increasing complexity for life as a whole through time. The basic evidence cannot support such a view, for simple forms still predominate in most environments, as they always have.

… I do not challenge the statement that the most complex creature has tended to increase in elaboration through time, but I fervently deny that this limited little fact can provide an argument for general progress as a defining thrust of life’s history. Such a grandiose claim represents a ludicrous case of the tail wagging the dog, or the invalid elevation of a small and epiphenomenal consequence into a major and controlling cause.

… [You] might say, “Okay, you win. I understand your point that the evidence of supposed progress, the increasing right skew of life’s bell curve, is only an epiphenomenal tail that cannot wag the entire dog — and that life’s full house has never moved from its modal position. But I am allowed to be parochial.

[line break added] “The right tail may be small and epiphenomenal, but I love the right tail because I dwell at its end — and I want to focus on the right tail alone because this little epiphenomenon is all that matters to me. Even you admit that the right tail had to arise, so long as life expanded. So the right tail had to develop and grow — and had to produce, at its apogee, something like me. I therefore remain the modern equivalent of the apple of god’s eye: the predictably most complex creature that ever lived.”

Wrong again, even for this pitifully restricted claim (after advancing an initial argument for intrinsic directionality in the basic causal thrust of all evolution). The right tail had to exist, but the actual composition of creatures on the tail is utterly unpredictable, partly random, and entirely contingent — not at all foreordained by the mechanism of evolution.

[line break added] If we could replay the game of life again and again, always starting at the left wall and expanding thereafter in diversity, we would get a right tail almost every time, but the inhabitants of this region of greatest complexity would be wildly and unpredictably different in each rendition — and the vast majority of replays would never produce (on the finite scale of a planet’s lifetime) a creature with self-consciousness. Humans are here by the luck of the draw, not the inevitability of life’s direction or evolution’s mechanism.

In any case, little tails, no tails, or whoever occupies the tails, the outstanding feature of life’s history has been the stability of its bacterial mode over billions of years!

… [R.D.K. Thomas] holds, however, that progress still compels our attention as the “main” effect among all of evolution’s incidental consequences. But what possible criterion can validate this claim beyond the parochial and subjective desire to designate as primary an effect that both led to human life and placed us atop a heap of our own definition? I think that any truly dominant bacterium would laugh with scorn at this apotheosis for such a small tail so far from the modal center of life’s main weight and continuity.

[line break added] I do realize that bacteria can’t laugh (or cogitate) — and that philosophical claims for our greater importance can be based on the consequences of this difference between them and us. But do remember that we can’t live on basalt and water six miles under the earth’s surface, form the core of novel ecosystems based on the earth’s interior heat rather than solar energy, or serve as a possible model for cosmic life in most solar system [all of which bacteria can do].




May 27, 2016

Without Wanting to Be ‘Right’

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… ‘the only thing one can really learn, the only technique to learn, is the capacity to be able to change … ‘

This is from Philip Guston: The Studio, by Craig Burnett (2014):

… What are we to make of this fat-fingered bozo? He paints, he smokes, he takes a break from murder and bigotry. Surely he’s not worthy of our attention.

Philip Guston, The Studio, 1969

… Before the critics had sharpened their hatchets, Guston knew that The Studio was a good painting, a turning point for him — and, as it turned out, for the history of American painting.

The Studio is an ecstatic unleashing of everything Guston venerated, all bound together by a passage of supreme poetry: the totemic puff of smoke and the meathead’s black-eyed apprehension of it at the center of the picture. The work has grown in significance over the years because it might just be the best picture Guston painted in his life.

Few noticed at the time.

… If Guston was once regarded as naïve and wrongheaded, he has since risen to critical acclaim as a wise and weary documenter of human conflict and a model painter. Peter Schjeldahl, who ‘hated’ the 1970 show’s paintings [at the Marlborough, where The Studio was first shown], has since called him ‘a prophet and pioneer,’ while in 2003 Michael Kimmelman wrote that ‘it is an exaggeration, but not a big one, to say that [the late paintings] have had a cultish influence almost akin to that Cézanne had on young painters a century ago.’ Arthur Danto has crowned Guston ‘the true hero of the post-historical artist.’

… he was resistant to any kind of manifesto, any last word about what painting is or might become. Indeed, it was in response to Ad Reinhardt’s tendentious list of ‘thou shalts’ for artists that prompted one of his more wonderful off-the-cuff quips: ‘the artist should not want to be right.’ Yet Guston knew all too acutely that the artist should want to be very, very good. The question of his achievement haunted him. It is the very anguish of last-gasp becoming — of working out who he is and what he can do without wanting to be ‘right’ — that we see dramatised in The Studio.

… He took up the hoods not only as an American and personal historical reference, but as an art-historical in-joke, a way to insert himself into and reimagine the grand tradition of figurative painting by his favorite artists, from Rembrandt to Goya, Ensor and Beckmann, who all played with masks and the ravages of selfhood.

Philip Guston, Riding Around, 1969

… Failure, for Guston, was productive. Opening a lecture at the Yale Summer School in 1972, Guston proposed that ‘the only thing one can really learn, the only technique to learn, is the capacity to be able to change … What I mean is that this serious play, which we call art, can’t be stamped. I mean you have to keep learning how to play in new ways all the time.’ Despair and anxiety allowed him to change the rules, motivating that desire to play in a comically serious way — an antidote to the quasi-religious rhetoric of the era [by, for example, Rothko and Newman]. By creating an idiom of brusque, cartoonish figuration, he donned a hood and readied himself to play Mickey Mouse, a bigot, a dandy, a flagellant, a dunce.

Just as the troll in the fairy story disappears through a crevice that no one can see, so it is with despair: the more spiritual it is, the more urgent it is to dwell in an externality behind which no one would ordinarily think of looking for it. This secrecy is itself something spiritual and is one of the safeguards to ensure having, as it were, an in-closure behind actuality, a world ex-clusively for itself, a world where the self in despair is restless and tormentedly engaged in willing to be itself.

In the above passage from The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard could be explicating, with the same mix of monomania and absurd humor, the action in The Studio. Beneath the hood is the last place one would expect to find existential crisis, an artist ‘restless and tormentedly engaged in willing to be itself.’

To be continued.




May 26, 2016

Crystal Night

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… before that perfect flower / scissors hesitate.

This is from The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place by Scott MacDonald (2001):

… Few words are more likely to cause consternation in recent generations of American academics than “the spirit” and “spiritual.” Whether in the context of traditional religion or in the more recent New Age context, admitting to a spiritual connection seems to a good many educated people tantamount to admitting to a disease of the intellect.

… For many academics, the assumption has been that only a rigorous intellectual clarity, unmarred by sentimental ideas like a “higher power,” can train new generations to face up to social inequality and transform society for the better. That one of the most courageous and effective social transformations in American history was a project of the undeniably religious Southern Christian Leadership Conference might be expected to give pause to progressive academics, but the irony is that the work of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. (and so many others) has often been patronized by an academic establishment that feels more comfortable with approaches to social change based on more intellectually complex social theories.

[line break added] The irony here is that, recently, when I showed a class segments of Eyes on the Prize (1980), they were astonished at what “unsophisticated,” young people and adults could undertake and accomplish in the name of the spirit; these students, like so many of us, were theoretically aware but could barely imagine having the “spirit” to take the kinds of action they saw in Eyes on the Prize.

In the world of academic film studies, and in the more academically marginalized world of independent filmmaking, the same suspicion of “the spirit” and “spiritual” is obvious. Recently, I had a conversation with Chick Strand, who has made a number of films that I would classify as “spiritual,” and when I told her I thought that her Kristallnacht (1979) could be categorized as a cinematic prayer she quickly responded, “Well, a prayer for the Godless!”

[line break added] I said, “How about a prayer for the spiritual?” And she responded, “Whatever that means.” Certainly, I understand her embarrassment with the team “prayer” applied to her film: it has come to sound pretentious and mindless at the same time. The paradox is that Kristallnacht is resonant with spirit, and only a spiritually driven filmmaker could have made it.

[ … ]

White chrysathemum
before that perfect flower
scissors hesitate.

The haiku is followed by a sequence of exquisite imagery of two young women swimming in what appears to be a lake at night (while we do not hear the young women speak, we do hear their splashes and a variety of nighttime sounds: crickets, frogs … ), exquisite because of the way in which the light sparkles and shimmers on the water.

[line break added] The sequence ends with the sound of a distant train whistle, the sounds of the train arriving at a station; and then, accompanied by the sound of a gong, a dissolve forms a segue into a nearly three-minute shot of water rippling through the frame from upper right to lower left (imagery as exquisite as the imagery of the young women swimming, and for the same reason: the complex reflections of light off the dark water), accompanied by a haunting, rhythmic music. Kristallnacht concludes with the dedication — white on black, echoing the opening haiku, “For Anne Frank.”

… On the most literal level, the term means “crystal night,” and thus can refer to the lovely evening evoked by Strand’s crystalline water and sensual sound track: the very image of growing up in an Edenic, rural America. Even the distant sounds of the train confirm the romance of the moment Strand captures: for many of us who grew up in mid-century, the distant sound of (especially nighttime) train whistles resonated a combination of nostalgia, security, and excitement about the future. On the other hand, the historical implications of the title, the dedication to Anne Frank, and the startling gong that accompanies the transition from swimmers to rippling water demand that we also respond to Strand’s “Edenic moment” as a haunting allegory …

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




May 25, 2016

In View of Unanticipated Futures

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… Photographs are archival objects insofar as they can be ripped out of some archives and placed in other ones, insofar as they migrate from one archive to another … which they always already do.

This is from the essay ‘I decided to take a look, again’ by Thomas Keenan found in The Itinerant Languages of Photography edited by Eduardo Cadava and Gabriela Nouzeilles (2013):

… From the beginning, without any extra intervention, it is claimed, the photo belongs to the realm of the depository.

You might wonder whether this means that the photograph is securely placed, even trapped, in the historical moment that it has, as one sometimes says, “captured.” Does every photograph thus belong, in a settled way, to a given archive from its very inception? Is this an argument for an “original context,” for the power of an orignating present or an organizing interpretation to fix and file the image?

No, the thesis is more radical than that. Not only is the archive born with the photograph itself, coeval and inseparable, but — strangely — this condition is an invitation to mobility.

… far from the ritual privilege of the “original context,” we are here called upon to rethink history on the basis of mobilization, recontextualization, instability. So the archive, and the archivality of the photographic image, would be tied not to its stability or fixity but to its detachability, its capacity to move and be moved, its tendency, even, to abandon the circumstances of its creation in view of unanticipated futures. In this sense, the archive is not a place where images are deposited but a place where they are found … and possibly lost.

Bringing together the archive and the image in this way is not an argument for contextual determination but something rather different, an insistence on the weak hold of context, the failure of any context or any archive to capture the photographic image. The “re-appropriation and re-contextualization of images” has to imply, in fact, dis-appropriation and de-contextualization as the very structure of the interpretation and the action of images.

[line break added] Becoming archival, for an image, does not mean being placed in an archive; on the contrary, it means not staying put, exiting, being taken out or taken over by some force other than the ones organizing the moment of its inscription. Photographs are archival objects insofar as they can be ripped out of some archives and placed in other ones, insofar as they migrate from one archive to another … which they always already do.

[ … ]

… My suffering is my own, my injuries harm only me, and my needs are personal. But as soon as I claim redress for such wounds as wrongs, as soon as I demand a response to them as unjust, then they are not just mine any longer: if they are violations of something I claim as a right, then that protection cannot belong only to me.

[line break added] We see this most forcefully when photographs are exhibited to document injustice: the image can function only to the extent that it breaks the absolute hold of its origins, migrates, provokes equivalences and parallels. No matter how singular the image and what it represents might be, this movement of abstraction and separation is essential to its operation.

In this sense, an archive, particularly a photographic one, is a laboratory for experimentation with unanticipated possibilities. The archive, which bears the imprint of history and is so often entrusted with the solemn task of memory, is also fundamentally oriented toward the future.

… A second look [at a later time] lets us see something else in the image, other photographs in the photograph; it opens the photograph as an archive, a set of unexpected possibilities and unpredicted futures.

My previous post from this book is here.




May 24, 2016

Something in Front of Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… I am not very good at visualizing things in advance. I am more a person who responds to something in front of me.

This is from Realists at Work by John Arthur (1983). This is from the studio interview with Jack Beal:

[ … ]

Jack Beal: … That early portrait of Ivan made me change the way I put paint on a canvas.

John Arthur: You’re talking about an early painting, from 1963. It was very expressionistic, Soutine-like.

J.B.: Yes. At the time, I applied paint often by squeezing colors directly on the brush and slapping it onto the canvas. Those paintings have a kind of energy and enthusiasm that still exists in the early stages of my current paintings, but is not so obvious when the form and surface have been developed. But after having that painting around my studio for a few months, I began to realize that the flesh on his face looked flayed, as though I had gone at him with a knife.

[line break added] I realized that I had done a disservice to my subject by allowing my ego or individuality as a painter to distort the image. Each person’s image is important to him and if we have the empathy we’re supposed to have, we should respect that. From that realization on, I have tried to paint people with the same kind of scrutiny that people give to themselves when they’re shaving or applying makeup or that they give to others in conversation.

[line break added] My whole style of paint application changed as a result of that understanding. So when I make a painting of people, I make them the size and shape that they are, with the gestures they use, and in the environment they choose for themselves.

Sondra [Beal’s wife and a fellow artist] says that making a painting, for her, is like writing a letter to someone, with the same kind of personal attention. I’m sending this to you, the viewer. That’s such a loving, simple statement about what contemporary Realism is all about.

[ … ]

J.A.: You have never done watercolor.

J.B.: No. The world’s best watercolorist (Sondra) is married to the world’s worst watercolorist (me). I have tried to do watercolors, but they require a kind of preplanning of which I am incapable. That is to say, I am not very good at visualizing things in advance. I am more a person who responds to something in front of me. I’ve always been a reactive person, responding to situations.

[line break added] Maybe it’s because I had gone to eighteen different schools and lived in thirty-three different houses by the time I left college. I was constantly thrown into new environments, and I learned very early that to develop preconceived notions about situations was very likely to lead to great disappointment. I tried to have an open mind and deal with things as they came at me.

[line break added] In an interview recently I was asked to choose a symbol for myself, and I chose chameleon. Watercolor, I think, requires the ability to be able to visualize very clearly, with some kind of confidence beforehand. I like to work with oil because I can make changes all the way through, I can make mistake after mistake, and rectify the mistakes as I go along.

Jack Beal, Self-portrait with Rudbeckias and Daylilies, 1988




May 23, 2016

This Instead of That

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… When you go to make something, nothing should be clearer than the fact that not only do you not have to make it but that it could look like anything, and then it starts getting interesting and then you get involved with our own limitations.

This is from a 1968 interview with Richard Kostelanetz found in Robert Rauschenberg: Works ¦ Writings ¦ Interviews by Sam Hunter (2006)

[ … ]

Richard Kostelanetz: I have noticed that you wish to avoid historical interpretations of yourself. In general would you prefer not to say that someone influenced you?

Robert Rauschenberg: No, I’ve been influenced by painting very much, but if I have avoided saying that, it was because of the general inclination, until very recently, to believe that art exists in art. At every opportunity, I’ve tried to correct that idea, suggesting that art is only a part — one of the elements that we live with.

… Being a painter, I probably take a painting more seriously than someone who drives a truck or something. Being a painter, I probably also take his truck more seriously.

R.K.: In what sense?

R.R.: In the sense of looking at it and listening to it and comparing it to other trucks and having a sense of its relationship to the road and the sidewalk and the things around it and the driver himself. Observation and measure are my business.

[ … ]

R.R.: … I think if you want to make a generalization, there are probably two kinds of artists. One kind works independently, following his own drives and instincts; the work becomes the product, or the witness, or the evidence of his own personal involvement and curiosity. It’s almost as if art, in painting and music and stuff, is the leftover of some activity. The activity is the thing that I’m most interested in. Nearly everything that I’ve done was to see what would happen if I did this instead of that.

R.K.: You would believe then that art is not a temple to which you apprentice yourself for future success.

R.R.: It’s like outside focus and inside focus. A lot of painters use a studio to isolate themselves; I prefer to free and expose myself.

[ … ]

R.R.: … When you go to make something, nothing should be clearer than the fact that not only do you not have to make it but that it could look like anything, and then it starts getting interesting and then you get involved with our own limitations.




May 22, 2016

Bringing to Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… “Yeah, that’s something human. Why didn’t I think of that?”

This is from ‘Semina Motuum’ by Heiner Bastian (1991) found in Writings on Cy Twombly edited by Nicola Del Roscio (2002):

… What we see is only an effect which transforms the object into the transitive state of the idea. As paradoxical as this claim may be, this idea of bringing to life, the act of initiation wants to be part of life itself, speaks itself more about life than about all the modes of drawing. In this work as in scarcely any other the perception becomes apparent that tragedy between life and art is a fury on the side of life.

… The ductus is crossed out, it is nothing but “revolt” (it is the graphic stroke of children when they vehemently cross out and cover the alien writing of the factual).

The following is from a conversation among various artists moderated by Kirk Varnedoe in 1994, called ‘Cy Twombly: An Artist’s Artist’ (1994):

[ … ]

Richard Serra: … The thing I that I admire about Twombly, and he said it best himself, and I think I’d better quote it because the quote’s better than anything I could possibly say: “Each line now is the actual experience with its own innate history. It does not illustrate, it is the sensation of its own realization. The imagery is of a private or separate indulgence, rather than of an abstract totality of visual perception.” So what he is telling you is that every line he makes counts. It counts for its own definition as a thing in and of itself; not to build other things.

… I think it is what is good about him, that he can put it in your face in a terrible way and make you love it. He can be very, very ugly and he can be very, very sensuous. I think Twombly has a big range of evocation. I think that is what he does. He doesn’t present an image; he evokes a sensuality.

[ … ]

Julian Schnabel: … I think everybody that paints is trying to paint something that they haven’t seen before, or that is personal to them in some kind of way. I think the biggest problem with most painting is that people paint paintings that are general. I see things in them and I see where everything comes from. But here [in the Twomblys], you can see a certain kind of mark making, and you just sort of recognize that, “Yeah, that’s something human. Why didn’t I think of that?” It is very hard to find that in any [other] painting that you look at.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 21, 2016

With Contingency, We Are Drawn In

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… contingency dominates and the predictability of general form recedes to an irrelevant background.

Final post from Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould (1989):

… I have been too apologetic so far. I have even slipped into the rhetoric of inferiority — by starting from the premise that historical explanations may be less interesting and then pugnaciously fighting for equality. No such apologies need be made. Historical explanations are endlessly fascinating in themselves, in many ways more intriguing to the human psyche than the inexorable consequences of nature’s laws.

[line break added] We are especially moved by events that did not have to be, but that occurred for identifiable reasons subject to endless mulling and stewing. By contrast, both ends of the usual dichotomy — the inevitable and the truly random — usually make less impact on our emotions because they cannot be controlled by history’s agents and objects, and are therefore either channeled or buffeted, without much hope for pushing back.

[line break added] But, with contingency, we are drawn in; we become involved; we share the pain of triumph or tragedy. When we realize that the actual outcome did not have to be, that any alteration in any step along the way would have unleashed a cascade down a different channel, we grasp the causal power of individual events. We can argue, lament, or exult over each detail — because each holds the power of transformation.

… Our own evolution is a joy and a wonder because such a curious chain of events would probably never happen again, but having occurred, makes eminent sense. Contingency is a license to participate in history, and our psyche responds.

… Invariant laws of nature impact the general forms and functions of organisms; they set the channels in which organic design must evolve. But the channels are so broad relative to the details that fascinate us! The physical channels do not specify arthropods, annelids, mollusks, and vertebrates, but, at most, bilaterally symmetrical organisms based on repeated parts. The boundaries of the channels retreat even further into the distance when we ask the essential questions about our own origin.

[line break added] Why did mammals evolve among vertebrates? Why did primates take to the trees? Why did the tiny twig that produced Homo sapiens arise and survive in Africa? When we set our focus above the level of detail that regulates most common questions about the history of life, contingency dominates and the predictability of general form recedes to an irrelevant background.

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




May 19, 2016

Seeing the Grain

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… The wind that moves across the mountain-scapes and fields … , continually altering the light and the composition, is “blowing” across the “field” of the film image as well.

This is from The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place by Scott MacDonald (2001):

… Like much nineteenth-century landscape painting, nature writing is generally elegiac, a plea — to put it in Leopold’s words — ‘for the preservation of some tag-ends of wilderness’ within the unpreventable, combined forced of the ‘exhaustion of wilderness in the more habitable portions of the globe’ and the ‘world-wide hybridization of cultures through modern transport and industrialization.’

[line break added] By the 1960s, in fact, the hunger for solitude in nature could be (momentarily) assuaged in only three ways: by going to the remotest areas left on the globe (as Barry Lopez does in Arctic Dreams (1968) … ) ; by learning to focus with great intensity on extremely limited spaces, as is done in many Japanese gardens and in the painter Charles Burchfield’s explorations of his backyard, and finally, by learning to see the interplay of development and natural biota with new eyes. This last approach informs the two most remarkable seasonally structured American independent films I’m aware of: Larry Gottheim’s Horizons (1973) [see my earlier post]; and Nathaniel Dorsky’s Hours for Jerome (1982).

… While Dorsky certainly admires the best of the commercial cinema and is in sympathy with many independent critiques of industry ideology, his commitment is to use filmmaking as a spiritual practice that can help us refine our vision in an era he sees as addicted to distraction.

Hours for Jerome is the quintessential ‘psychedelic’ film, not in what has become the pejorative sense of the word (Dorsky does not provide us with hallucinations verging on the psychotic), but in the liberating sense of the term so widespread in the late sixties …

[ … ]

I think when you have the occasion to step away from agendas — whether it’s through circumstance or out of some kind of emotional necessity — then you’re often struck by the incredible epiphanies of nature. These are often very subtle things, right on the edge of most people’s sensibilities. My films try to record and to offer some of these experiences. [Peter Hutton]

Hutton allows a revelation of the motion of the world to speak directly to the viewer’s senses, mind, and spirit. Indeed, this perceptual subtlety and implicit spiritual connection is Hutton’s gift to the sleeping child in the film’s [Landscape for Manon (1986)] closing shot, and to the filmgoer-as-sleeping-child. We are often more oblivious than real children to the visual subtleties of the world.

… while the graininess of Hutton’s shots may contradict the desire to ‘get out of the way’ so obvious in Hutton’s timing and composition, it is most usefully positioned as a synthesis of what at one time seemed conflicting concerns. … The wind that moves across the mountain-scapes and fields in Landscape (for Manon) and above the city in New York Portrait, Part I, continually altering the light and the composition, is “blowing” across the “field” of the film image as well.

[line break added] Indeed, the individual frame of Hutton’s film is a microcosm that, by means of film grain, encodes the macrocosmic developments the shots depict: the particular is the general. Just as his meditative gaze makes no fundamental distinction between rural and urban locales — both are places in which people live, and both are in a continual process of transformation by both societal and natural forces — Hutton makes no fundamental distinction between material realities outside and inside the camera. The function of filmmaking, for Hutton, is to use the camera as a means of revealing outer and inner realities, the material and the spiritual, as the fundamental unity that in fact, they are.

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




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