Unreal Nature

July 26, 2016

He Would Not Take No for an Answer

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… “We learned from the processes and saw other possibilities.”

This is from the essay ‘Changing Expressions: Printmaking’ by Deborah Wye in Chuck Close by Robert Storr (1998):

“Resistance and edge are the key, keeping you off balance … it’s not knowing what you’re going to do, and having to solve a new problem.”

… Such encounters [with Japanese printmakers] gave Close “a whole other notion of what dialogue really means.” His description sums it up: “You present the thing you want to do. They wrest control away from you, and they work on it. Now the project is theirs. Then you come back in and realize that you’ve got to get control again. That’s what collaboration really means.”

[line break added] The Japanese printer for the Crown Point Press project, Tadashi Toda, also gained new insights from the Americans. “As I have worked with the artists, I have realized that my understanding of woodblock printing has been completely explored and expanded, and I accept that as a gift. The artist and printer become one, and two energies are engaged to make one print.”

Close believes these encounters influenced all his future relationships with printers. “I think it made me think differently about printers from then on. While the care and feeding of the artist is always thought about, we don’t always think of the care and feeding of the printer.” He points out that this lesson has taken on new importance now that he is handicapped and depends even more on other people’s help in the execution of a print project.

Collaboration came to its greatest realization for Close in his projects with the late master printer Joseph Wilfer (1943-1995). As is often the case in printmaking, Wilfer had to cajole Close into agreeing to work with him. At first, Close outlined all sorts of likely problems as reasons for his hesitation, but Wilfer simply went away and returned with solutions. Finally, he convinced Close to try to create handmade paper editions.

[line break added] “Eventually it got to the point where he would not take no for an answer, so we just started doing some stuff,” says Close. He was so pleased with the results that he subsequently convinced his publisher, Richard Solomon of Pace Editions, to have other artists take advantage of Wilfer’s skills. Wilfer became master printer of the Spring Street Workshop for Pace Editions, and offered a wide range of printing options there.

[line break added] Close describes Wilfer as “the single greatest problem-solving mind I’ve ever worked with. He never panicked. I would always get really crazy and hysterical and nervous and Joe would remain calm.” Eventually he oversaw, or “mother henned,” all of Close’s editioned projects, even when other printers and shops were involved. He came up with “thousands of ideas … he kept things going. We learned from the processes and saw other possibilities. … That was my dialogue with Joe,” says Close.


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




July 25, 2016

To Draw a Line Is to Have an Idea

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… philosophy and science are descriptive disciplines whereas art and religion are not.

This is from a 1976 interview with Liza Béar titled ‘Sight Point ’71-’75/Delineator ’74-’76’ [1970] in Richard Serra: Writings Interviews (1994):

[ … ]

Liza Béar: Okay … What does making sculpture mean to you right now?

Richard Serra: [long pause] I guess it means a lifetime involvement, that’s what it means. It means to follow the direction of the work I opened up early on for myself and try to make the most abstract moves within that … To work out of my own work, and to build whatever’s necessary so that the work remains open and vital and challenging to myself, and hopefully to others who’re interested in the direction that I’m working in.

[ … ]

RS: … one of the things that you get into as you become more in tune with articulating space is that space systems are different than linguistic systems in that they’re nondescriptive. The conclusion I’ve come to is that philosophy and science are descriptive disciplines whereas art and religion are not.

LB: Well, they’re experiential, aren’t they?

RS: Yes. What happens with Delineator is that the only way to understand this work is to experience the place physically, and you can’t have an experience of space outside of the place and space that you’re in. Any linguistic mapping or reconstruction by analogy, or any verbalization or interpretation or explanation, even of this kind, is a linguistic debasement, in a sense, because it isn’t even true in a parallel way.

The following is from a 1977 interview with Lizzie Borden titled ‘About Drawing: An Interview’:

Richard Serra: Drawing is a way of seeing into your own nature. Nothing more. There are certain formal processes that one learns — learned methods that end up being a hindrance. There is no way to make a drawing — there is only drawing.

Lizzie Borden: Don’t all disciplines require some formal language?

RS: Yes, but if formal hand-me-downs, methodological preoccupations become the content of one’s investigation, then the work ends up being a reformulation of formalist strategies. If the art is so tightly bound to and contingent upon a historical referential tradition, it will be severely limited and susceptible to obvious formal analyses. Drawings which do not accept a static definition, which do not give over easily to analyses or categorizations, drawings which negate traditional definitions, exist outside of formalist values even though they remain self-referential.

[ … ]

RS: … Drawing creates its own ordering. To draw a line is to have an idea. More than one line is usually construction. Ideas become compounded as soon as you make the second line. Drawing is a way for me to carry on an interior monologue with the making as I’m making it.

[ … ]

RS: What I continually find to be true is that the concentration I apply to drawing is a way of tuning or honing my eye. The more I draw, the better I see and the more I understand. There’s always been a correlation between the strength of the work and the degree to which I’m drawing.

My previous post from Serra’s book is here.




July 24, 2016

This Way of Seeing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… he has the professional experience which turns dancing from a thing you buy readymade into a thing you make yourself.

This is from ‘Ashton’s “Devil’s Holliday” and More Monte Carlo’ [1939] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

Ghost Town won an ovation. Rodger’s music is Rodgers at his own best; it is catchy and unpretentious and keeps going, and I enjoyed the clarity of it. It also sounded repetitious and orchestrally sour and melodically saccharine, but that is not the point; it does say something of its own. The set and costumes (du Bois) too are musical comedy, and yet they have a callow freshness that isn’t fake.

[line break added] The Picasso, the Derain, the Berman or Bérard decorations [of other productions] all have space under wonderful control; and their colors even during dancing stay in place, so to speak, and don’t mess up the stage. There is nothing of that in this du Bois, which is obviously awkward and keeps going all the time all over the place, without rest or coherence; but it’s not an imitation any more than the Rodgers is. You can call it vulgar, but in its own way it is sincere.

The choreography, which is Platoff’s first work, strikes me as much more interesting than either the music or the décor, although it is even less orderly. It too keeps going all over the place, messes up dances by realistic gestures, by awkward spacing and operatic arm waving. But there is an exuberant energy in it.

Next is from ‘Lifar as a Writer’ [1940]:

… He is the best dance critic living. It isn’t that I subscribe to his decisions. To be sure, it’s fun when he demolishes a stage rival with a few appreciative words; but I often violently disagree. No, it’s not Lifar’s opinions I stand up for; it’s his attack. Because, first, he has the professional experience which turns dancing from a thing you buy readymade into a thing you make yourself.

[line break added] And second, he sees dancing with the eyes of intelligence, as an ordinary person sometimes sees a friend or see the weather; sees and believes at the same time. “The eyes of a poet,” people say who know what poetry is about. If criticism makes any sense at all, which I often doubt, the sense it makes is that it suggests to others this way of seeing. And opinions are no more than one of the ways of doing it.

The following is from Denby’s piece ‘Kurt Jooss: The Monte Carlo Ballet’ [1941]:

… Many people are dissatisfied with a kind of hoppitiness in classic ballet. They point out that there is a fraction of a second between steps, between arm positions, that goes dead in the way a harpsichord goes dead, but not an orchestra, or even a piano. Jooss has stretched a movement to fill the time space completely; he uses a pedal. It was Dalcroze who thirty years ago made us most conscious of this possibility in moving.

When a dancer makes his gesture coincide as closely as possible with the time length and time emphasis of musical rhythm, he is apt to be as pleased as a hen is who has laid an egg. He tells everybody “Look how musical I am,” and everybody cackles back “Isn’t he just the most musical thing!” Rationally it seems odd to confuse the metrics of music with musicality. And also to assume that the metrics of dancing are identical with those of music. It strikes me that there is in fact an inherent disparity.

[line break added] The proportioning of time, as well as the proportioning of emphasis, between the stress and the follow-through of a single metric unit is much more regular in music than it is in movement. Apart from theory, in practice this kind of measured gesture draws attention to itself and away from the body as a whole. In practice, too, the dancer loses a certain surprise of attack, which is one of his characteristic rhythmic possibilities.

Well, in point of musicality, listen to the music Jooss uses. True, the dancers obey the metrics of music, but the music in its rhythmic development obeys beat by beat the rhythmic detail of the dance. The piece makes no musical sense. It is merely a cue sheet for the dancers. It sound like a spoken commentary in a documentary film that names every object we see while we’re looking at it.

[line break added] Music that can’t make any decision on its own is functioning on a bare subsistence level, and it is apt to be as glum as that. Poor Frederic Cohen’s voluble cue-sheets for Jooss are utterly depressing; they reminded me most of cafeteria soup gone sour. I don’t think much of the musicality of a director who makes me listen to such poverty. If this is collaboration, it must be the Berlin-Vichy kind. I detest a dancer who is satisfied with it.

I don’t go to the theater to see a servant problem solved. Jooss of course isn’t the only choreographer who has music in to do the dirty work and keeps all the dignity for himself. … For a while it was fun enough to listen to a new manner, and affix at least an ideological, a historical meaning. But the historical significance of style is a parlor game that gets tiresome.

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




July 23, 2016

A New System of Play

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… mapping strategies propose organizational field-systems that both instigate and sustain …

Continuing through the essay ‘The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention’ by James Corner found in Mappings edited by Denis Cosgrove (1999):

… Plotting entails the ‘drawing out’ of new and latent relationships that can be seen amongst the various extracts within the field. There are, of course, an infinite number of relationships that can be drawn depending upon one’s criteria or agenda. [ … ] In addition to geometrical and spatial plotting, taxonomic and genealogical procedures of relating, indexing and naming can often be extremely productive in revealing latent structures. Such techniques may produce insights that have both utility and metaphoricity.

[line break added] In either case, plotting entails an active and creative interpretation of the map to reveal, construct and engender latent sets of possibility. Plotting is not simply the indiscriminate listing and inventorying of conditions, as in a tracing, a table or a chart, but rather a strategic and imaginative drawing-out of relational structures. To plot is to track, to trace, to set-in-relation, to find and to found. In this sense, plotting produces a ‘re-territorialization’ of sites.

… A relatively new development in the design of large-scale urban and landscape fabrics has been ‘layering.’ This involves the superimposition of various independent layers one upon the other to produce a heterogeneous and ‘thickened’ surface.

… When these separate layers are overlaid together, a stratified amalgam of relationships amongst parts appears. The resulting structure is a complex fabric, without center, hierarchy or single organizing principle. The composite field is instead one of multiple parts and elements, cohesive at one layer but disjunct in relation to others.

[line break added] Such richness and complexity cannot be gained by the limited scope of the single master-plan or the zoning plan, both of which group, hierarchicalize and isolate their component parts. Unlike the clear order of the compositional plan, the layering of independently structured conditions leads to a mosaic-like field of multiple orders, not unlike the combination of different colored paint delineations for the playing of games superimposed on a gymnasium floor.

[line break added] One layer becomes legible only through the lens of the game or rules of use that apply to it. But, of course, the possibility of ‘hybrid’ games becomes possible here too — not only may things occur simultaneously side-by-side, but they may also merge as a new event structure (as in many children’s games where throwing, hitting, passing and running are combined into a new system of play).

… Another way one can characterize the multiplying functions of layering is in terms of indeterminacy. Unlike a traditional plan, the layered field remains open to any number of interpretations, uses and transformation in time. Just as upon the gymnasium floor, almost anything can happen; the layered structure provides little restraint or imposition.

[line break added] Unlike traditional plans, maps share this open-ended characteristic. Maps are not prescriptive but infinitely promising. Thus, as constructed projects, mapping strategies propose organizational field-systems that both instigate and sustain a range of activities and interpretations in time.

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




July 22, 2016

The Unusualness of What Is Usual

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Wonder is ‘between’ the usual and the unusual insofar as it is in wonder that the usual is unusual and vice-versa.

This is from Fischli and Weiss: The Way Things Go, by Jeremy Millar (2007):

… The philosopher Arthur C. Danto, in his brilliance, writes essays on it; my four-year-old daughter, in her brilliance, asks to watch it on TV. It is a work — and this is a rare thing indeed — about which I have yet to hear a bad word spoken, a work whose public popularity has not diminished the seriousness with which it is regarded by people within the ‘art world.’

… the objects within The Way Things Go — the actors, or those that act — are no more than they need to be; if they are required to roll down a slope, then that is what they shall do, and no more. A chair tips up because it has been knocked off balance; a candle lights a fuse because it has been rolled underneath it; a pair of shoes waddle down a slope. Here there is no need for athletic bodies, for heads raised, arms outstretched, legs readied, steadied; Hermes’s winged sandals are superfluous when all that is required is that a pair of trundling loafers clatter into an oil drum.

[ … ]

… If it is the rigidity of that which is alive that makes us laugh — ‘something mechanical encrusted on the living’ — then the same is also true when the terms are reversed, viz. when something inanimate takes on the characteristics of the living. I would suggest that this is what occurs in The Way Things Go, and is one of the reasons for its humor.

[line break added] There are moments when, instead of acting automatically and with immediacy, simply falling or rolling, the objects seem to hesitate, as if reflecting on what it is they are about to do: the tyre resting among the burning newspapers before moving on, and resting again before rolling on once more; the can being filled with water before sliding down the orange slope; the lazy unfolding of the inflatable bed, like an arm stretching during a yawn.

[line break added] Of course, this is not always the case, and often the objects act exactly as we would expect, but there are occasions enough when the supposed symmetry of classical causality — ‘to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction,’ in the famous formulation of Newton’s third law of motion — does not occur, and the object falters, or fails to respond for some time, or seems to respond disproportionately.

… Descartes himself thought astonishment ‘makes the whole body [and mind] remain immobile like a statue [ … ] and therefore cannot acquire any more particular knowledge,’ while Bacon scorned the natural philosophers whose enquiries ‘ever breaketh off in wondering and not in knowing.’ These concerns grew ever stronger, and by the middle of the eighteenth century wonder and curiosity were once again opposed to one another, although now their respective statuses were the opposite of those they’d held in the age of Augustine.

[line break added] Now, ‘noble curiosity worked hard and shunned enticing novelties; vulgar wonder wallowed in the pleasures of novelty and obstinately refused to remedy the ignorance that aroused it.’ Curiosity had become earnest application; wonder little more than gaudy spectacle.

Heidegger explores three terms that he believes are incorrectly viewed as synonymous with wonder — amazement, admiration and astonishment — but he is also keen to show how different they are from what must have originally been meant by the concept.

… As Brad Stone has remarked in his commentary on the lectures of Heidegger:

Unlike curiosity, which presupposes that there is a difference between the usual and the unusual (the extraordinary), wonder is an attunement in which one finds even the usual to be extraordinary. The wondrous is not the extraordinary; instead, it is the unusualness of what is usual. As Heidegger states, ‘in wonder [ … ] everything becomes the most unusual [ … ] Everything in what is most usual (beings) becomes in wonder the most unusual in this one respect: that it is ‘what it is.’ [ … ] The extraordinary is right under our noses; what is wondrous is that beings ‘be.’

I think that this is perhaps as succinct and accurate a summation of the practice of Fischli and Weiss as I have found. In denying a distinction between the usual and the unusual, between the ordinary and the extraordinary, wonder allows no escape into, or retreat from, the unusualness of usual beings. As Stone points out, if everything is unusual, then there is no ‘usual’ to which we can return once we tire of the unusual, nor is there a ‘usual’ for us to flee in our pursuit of curiosity. He continues:

Once in this attunement, there is no way to overcome or to avoid wonder; one must think. Wonder shows that the usual and the unusual are two sides of the same coin: that beings ‘be,’ whether we take them for granted as merely being ‘usual,’ or by philosophically thinking of them in their extraordinariness. Wonder is ‘between’ the usual and the unusual insofar as it is in wonder that the usual is unusual and vice-versa.





July 21, 2016

Certain Types of Making Sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

Third Cinema is most emphatically not simply concerned with ‘letting the oppressed speak with their own voices’ …

This is from the essay ‘The Third Cinema Question: Notes and Reflections’ by Paul Willemen found in Questions of Third Cinema edited by Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (1989):

[ … ]

First cinema expresses imperialist, capitalist, bourgeois ideas. Big monopoly capital finances big spectacle cinema as well as authorial and informational cinema. Any cinematographic expression … likely to respond to the aspirations of big capital, I call first cinema. Our definition of second cinema is all that expresses the aspirations of the middle stratum, the petit bourgeoisie …

Second cinema is often nihilistic, mystificatory. It runs in circles. It is cut off from reality. In the second cinema, just as in the first cinema, you can find documentaries, political and militant cinema. So-called author cinema often belongs in the second cinema, but both good and bad authors may be found in the first and in the third cinemas as well. For us, third cinema is the expression of a new culture and of social changes. Generally speaking, Third Cinema gives an account of reality and history. It is also linked with national culture …

[line break added] It is the way the world is conceptualized and not the genre nor the explicitly political character of a film which makes it belong to Third CinemaThird Cinema is an open category, unfinished, incomplete. It is a research category. It is a democratic, national, popular cinema. Third Cinema is also an experimental cinema, but it is not practised in the solitude of one’s home or in a laboratory because it conducts research into communication. What is required is to make that Third Cinema gain space, everywhere, in all its forms … But it must be stressed that there are 36 different kinds of Third Cinema. [Fernando Solanas, 1979]

… two characteristics must be singled out as especially useful and of lasting value. One is the insistence on its flexibility, its status as research and experimentation, a cinema forever in need of adaptation to the shifting dynamics at work in social struggles. Because it is part of constantly changing social processes, that cinema cannot but change with them, making an all-encompassing definition impossible and even undesirable.

[line break added] The second useful aspect follows from this fundamental flexibility: the only stable thing about Third Cinema is its attempt to speak a socially pertinent discourse which both the mainstream and the authorial cinemas exclude from their regimes of signification. Third Cinema seeks to articulate a different set of aspirations out of the raw materials provided by the culture, its traditions, art forms, etc. the complex interactions and condensations of which shape the ‘national’ cultural space inhabited by the filmmakers as well as their audiences.

[ … ]

The unity of a particular culture is an open unity [in which] lie immense semantic possibilities that have remained undisclosed, unrecognized, and unutilized. [Mikhail Bakhtin]

… The silence of the oppressed may be an active form of resistance, a refusal. It may also be the result of a socially induced incapacity to activate certain registers of meaning, the exercise of social power having succeeded in blocking access to a number of semantic possibilities. It is important to stress this particular effect of power, since it is often overlooked by people who study the way consumers use products of the cultural industries: questions of pleasure are often emphasized at the expense of an examination of the stunting and restrictive effects of dominant discursive regimes which constantly repeat the ruling out of certain types of making sense.

[ … ]

In our enthusiasm for specification we have ignored questions of the interconnection and interdependence of various areas of culture; we have frequently forgotten that the boundaries of these areas are not absolute, that in various epochs they have been drawn in various ways; and we have not taken into account that the most intense and productive life of culture takes place on the boundaries of its individual areas and not in places where these areas have become enclosed in their own specificity. [Mikhail Bakhtin]

… their pursuit of the creative understanding of particular social realities takes the form of a critical dialog — hence the need for both lucidity and close contact with popular discourses and aspirations — with a people itself engaged in bringing about social change. Theirs is not an audience in the Hollywood or in the televisual sense, where popularity is equated with consumer satisfaction and where pleasure is measured in terms of units of the local currency entered on the balance sheet. Theirs, like Brecht’s, is a fighting notion of popularity, as is clear from Solanis’ insistence on Third Cinema being an experimental cinema engaged in a constant process of research.

Third Cinema is most emphatically not simply concerned with ‘letting the oppressed speak with their own voices’ : that would be a one-sided and therefore an untrustworthy position. Those voices will only speak the experience of oppression, including the debilitating aspects of that condition. Third Cinema does not seek to induce guilt in or to solicit sympathy from its interlocutors. Instead, it addresses the issue of social power from a a critical-but-committed position, articulating the joining of ‘the intelligence, the emotions, the powers of intuition,’ as Espinosa put it …




July 20, 2016

The Deoxygenated Stillness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

Baltz’s photographs are neither mirrors nor windows but frames — the analysis they structure is what gives the view.

This is from the essay ‘Photography’s Objecthood’ by Matthew S. Witkovsky found in the Prototypes volume of the multi-volume Lewis Baltz (2010

… we first need to wrest Baltz’s early works from the orbit of fine photography in which they continue to be discussed almost exclusively. A review of two key early exhibitions shows how misguided it can be to class works of art based on their medium, and suggests in particular the difficulties Baltz faced as he struggled with the dominance of documentary photography during the 1960s and 1970s.

First is the “New Topographics,” a show that cemented Baltz’s fame, indeed, as a photographer operating in a documentary mode.

… [the show’s curator William] Jenkins’ vision of the documentary seems fixedly centered on democratic empiricism. The photographers in “New Topographics” were not judgmental, in Jenkins’ view, nor were they attempt[ing] to validate one category of pictures to the exclusion of others” — in other words, they were not elitist. … Availability, neutrality, a studied absence of affect marked Jenkins’ claims for these photographers.

[line break added] He picked “topographics,” it turns out, as a synonym for “document,” stressing not topos but descriptive fidelity in defining his use of the term: ” ‘The detailed and accurate description of a particular place … ‘ The important word is description for although photography is thought to do many things to and for its subjects, what it does first and best is describe them.”

Baltz is quoted at length in the short catalog essay, and it is ironic, for his comments do not support Jenkins’ exposition.

… Abstraction and, certainly, art, are Baltz’s intention, not just in the Prototypes but also Tract Houses and New Industrial Parks, the series featured in “New Topographics.” There is thus no way that Baltz could agree with Jenkins that “Ruscha’s pictures of gasoline stations are primarily about a set of aesthetic issues,” (Jenkins admires Schott’s description of Ruscha as making “statements about art through the world”) while “true” photographers are speaking directly about the world: “This [non-judgmental] viewpoint, which extends throughout the exhibition, is anthropological rather than critical, scientific rather than artistic.” The distinction between criticism and research, aesthetics and information, is specious, especially when one is on the terrain of the documentary.

Baltz’s photographs are neither mirrors nor windows but frames — the analysis they structure is what gives the view. Indeed, the “work” as such meant and included its presentation in books or exhibitions, with all the literal and discursive framing this entailed.

None of this was understandable in the terms of ordinary photographic criticism in the 1970s, although it could certainly be grasped in relation to advanced art. Consider the example of Richard Serra, who like Baltz was preoccupied with landscape on the one hand and the ordering of public space on the other — and who, in Baltz’s memory, was the first Castelli artist to praise his work.

Tract House #17, 1971

… Unlike the Bechers, Baltz is not inventorying forms or types of structures; there is not even a pretense of system in his Prototypes or subsequent series. His images may be “deadpan,” but his prints are the opposite of lackluster, the common characteristic of Ruscha’s photobooks, the photoemulsion canvases of Baldessari, or photographic projects by the young Douglas Huebler, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Christian Boltanski, and others.

[line break added] (As an obvious point of difference, Baltz slavishly printed his own photographs, while the others pointedly took theirs to the one-hour store — and mixed anonymous photographs with their own, an even more radical gesture.) The rigor, the deoxygenated stillness, the magnetic surfaces of the Prototypes are qualities that utterly distance them from most vernacular photographic forms.

There is one class of vernacular photography that Baltz’s photographs do resemble, however: corporate studio work. Although their rich printing somewhat obscures this comparison, the even lighting, isolation and decontextualization of the subjects, and surface allure are all traits that bring the Prototypes close to commercial presentation pieces, especially sales images for trade fairs or company brochures.

… The objecthood of Baltz’s prints undoes their status as views of any sort onto reality — alternative, true, ironic, or otherwise.




July 19, 2016

The Same Damned Thing Over and Over

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… making us inescapably aware of the frameworks we habitually look through but not at.

This is from the essay ‘Chuck Close Then and Now’ by Kirk Varnedoe in Chuck Close by Robert Storr (1998):

Like other artists of his generation — Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Philip Glass — Chuck Close does the same damned thing over and over. The constrictive boxes he puts around his options, and his nonstop recycling of motifs and methods, might seem to guarantee monotony. But art is where narrowing and breadth can cohabit; and scanning from say, Close’s Big Portrait in 1968 to its equivalent in 1997, we see growth and transformation emerge from apparently straitened consistency in the way a likeness coalesces from the brickwork of his modular marks.

Big Self-Portrait, 1967-68

… Associated less with mass printing than with photography and piecework, this spitting needle [the airbrush used by Close in some of his early work] was better suited to fudging approximations — retouching small passages of halftone shading — than to pumping brassy declarations. To monumentally “copy” a close-up of a face by slowly accreting this squirter’s droplet veils was like making Mount Rushmore with a dental drill — an enterprise of tremendous perversity, a potlatch spectacle of seemingly gratuitous hand labor.

Perceptually and formally, this scale and way of working set up dilemmas of relation between units and unity, parts and whole, that appealed to Close. And looking within art, the contrast between the instantly overpowering given and the motif, and the exhausting, indigestible profusion of the visual data, perhaps had a covert affinity with the mental judo of Jasper Johns’s flags and targets, where a swift initial “reading” runs against the deliberately slow, inch-by-inch facture.

[line break added] Like the banality of the blown-up head shots themselves, though, this laborious way of making art also just seemed mammothly dumb — which was part of its offensive, subversive force. Such in-your-face dumbing-down (found contemporaneously in sculpture’s assertion of material over style, and weight over image) trumped the soup cans and serialism that had seemed so shockingly brainless a decade before.

[line break added] In a critique that was implicitly political and attuned to the dyspeptic, disillusioned radicalism of the emerging 1970s, it rejected Pop’s and Mimimal’s postures of ironic distance as frustratingly impotent, and spurned their “smart” adoption of fast-hit commercial slick — whatever the satirical or critical intent — as being too close to collusion with the dominant forces of big-time consumer society. As if updating a William-Morris-like insistence on handcraft, many young artists of the day then advanced the ritualized, even fetishized, show of rote, incremental personal labor as if it had a saving moral force of authenticity.

… The “realism” of these pictures may have only partly to do, then, with a positivist idea of truth to observed facts and more to do with the distinctly modern notion of achieving authenticity by “foregrounding” schemas of representation often ignored or taken for granted — making us inescapably aware of the frameworks we habitually look through but not at.

Self-Portrait, 1997

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




July 18, 2016

The Work Establishes a Measure

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… I have chosen the structure of a relation. I have chosen certain conditions (rules that I have made up) that reveal themselves in the logic of the procedure.

This is from ‘Play it Again, Sam’ [1970] in Richard Serra: Writings Interviews (1994):

… The perception of the work in its state of suspended animation, arrested motion, does not give one calculable truths like geometry, but a sense of presence, an isolated time. The apparent potential for disorder, for movement endows the structure with a quality outside of its physical or relational definition.

… “We experience more than we can analyse” (A.N. Whitehead). “Sensibility is inclusive and precedes analytic awareness.” (Anonymous). In San Francisco they say, “Flash on it.”

There is no general rule as to which formal properties suffice to determine the structure of a relation. I have chosen the structure of a relation. I have chosen certain conditions (rules that I have made up) that reveal themselves in the logic of the procedure.

There is a difference between definite literal fixed relationships, i.e., joints, clips, gluing, welding, etc. and those which are provisional, non-fixed, “clastic.” The former seem unnecessary and irrelevant and tend to function as interposed elements.

This next is from ‘Shift’ in the same book:

… The boundaries of the work became the maximum distance two people could occupy and still keep each other in view.

… What I wanted was a dialectic between one’s perception of the place in totality and one’s relation to the field as walked. The result is a way of measuring oneself against the indeterminacy of the land. I’m not interested in looking at sculpture which is solely defined by its internal relationships. When you bounce a ball on a shifting ground, it doesn’t return to your hand.

… The work establishes a measure: one’s relation to it and to the land. One walks down the hill into the piece. As one does, the elements begin to rise in relation to one’s descending eye-level.

… The machinery of renaissance space depends on measurements remaining fixed and immutable. [By contrast] These steps [in his work ‘Shift’] relate to a continually shifting horizon, and as measurements, they are totally transitive: elevating, lowering, extending, foreshortening, contracting, compressing, and turning. The line as a visual element, per step, becomes a transitive verb.

Richard Serra, Shift, 1971-72




July 17, 2016

I Smell a Führer Somewhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… they don’t even look as if they enjoyed dancing.

This is from ‘Argentinita; Some Musicals; Graham’s “American Document” ‘ [1939] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… Even when she [Argentinita] hardly moves, there is in the air that extra sense of well-being all over that is dancing. And especially her waist; if you haven’t noticed how beautiful the middle of a dancer is, you can learn from her.

La Argentinita

It’s the bearing of any Spanish gypsy dancer that makes me feel so good, the lift of the waist, the expressive stretch from the pit of the stomach to the small of the back. It’s the bearing of a bullfighter too, when he makes his passes. It lifts the hips and lightens the feet, it settles the shoulder, eases the arm, and frees the head. And it seems to heighten the dancer’s visibility. Perhaps expression in dancing, the sense of an impulse, comes from the diaphragm, as Isadora said.

[line break added] A flamenco dancer always seems to have more expressiveness than he needs for a gesture, a kind of reserve of it that gives him an independent distinction — or dignity, as I have heard Spaniards say, who are very sensitive to this quality. Perhaps, looking at it technically, it is the strictness of this fundamental position that gives coherence and point to everything within the flamenco range; that gives the dancer the freedom to shift from serious to funny; that keeps the male dancer from getting all wet with stagey glamor.

[line break added] You see, these are all problems that the modern dancer is puzzled by. Another thing that a gypsy dancer can do is go into or come out of a dance without embarrassment. She walks up to the guitarist and stands there clapping her hands a few times and then starts, or she stops dancing and sings a little, or she stops and lets someone else dance while she merely stands around or walks. This change between heightened movement and ordinary movement is a wonderful contrast on the stage; it puts the performer on an equal footing with the audience, it makes him a casual human being and his big moment all the more interesting.

[ … ]

Martha Graham’s American Document is a major work, as everybody knows, with a moral to which everyone subscribes, stated by a narrator. It wants “to capture the feeling of America.” I see Miss Graham’s sincerity, her fine technique, her intensity. But I am troubled by the monotony of equal thrusts, the unrelaxed determinations. There is something too constantly solemn, too unhumorous, too stiff about it; something sectarian.

The following is from Denby’s essay ‘Modern Dancers as Human Beings’ [1939]:

… When you see six of them on the stage, all you can do is count six, you can’t tell six what. They don’t seem to be girls combining with other girls, they don’t seem to have any human relation to one another. They seem artificially depersonalized, and their bodies operated from offstage. I smell a Führer somewhere, and I get uncomfortable. I wish our dance groups would look as if they were free agents. I wish they would look as if they liked being together, at least as much as folk dancers do, or lindy-hoppers.

Well, another thing that makes me uncomfortable with modern groups is that they don’t even look as if they enjoyed dancing. We all know that expression of sobriety they wear not only on their face but on their body, too. It covers a group of them like an unattractvie army blanket. From their programs, from their choreographies, they mean to express all sorts of things; but they don’t show them. They seem to be thinking of the next movement as though they were afraid they’d forget it. When I think of the natural kind of dancing, or folk dancing, I notice it doesn’t express anything but the pleasure of being in a dance.

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




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