Unreal Nature

September 3, 2015

Where the Girl Was Shot

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… going through that process of “untraining” was a key part of my life, and it did seem to help end the deadness …

This is from Adventures of Perception: Cinema as Exploration by Scott MacDonald (2009):

… Originally, [Clive] Holden had attempted to create something like a memorial of the murder [of a thirteen year old girl] and of his witnessing of it: he filmed “the split-levels, service stations, and the air raid siren over the old Gordon Head store” (Gordon Head is a suburb just to the north of Victoria, British Columbia), as well as his friend Andrew doing oil pastels of the crime scene; “I even lay on my side on the road where she died.” As Holden tells the story of the murder and its aftermath, and ruminates on his struggle to know how to feel about the girl’s death in a world where any young person is a “witness” to eighteen thousand television murders by age sixteen, we see the video of the original footage, presented by means of continual looping …

Clive Holden

The following is from MacDonald’s interview with Holden:

[ … ]

Holden: … I came out of my teens in the early eighties feeling like I was in shock. Part of this was just being a teenager, and some of it had to do with the Cold War: I was waiting for the world to end, suddenly, along with millions of other people at the time — today, it would be the war on terror or environmental catastrophe — but my biggest struggle then could be summed up by a need to wake up. When I was twenty-two, around when the girl was killed, I went cold turkey on all mass media; for years the only books I read were literary or mostly art-focused nonfiction. I never opened a mainstream magazine, didn’t watch TV; I even avoided looking at billboards. I’d internalized a collection of ludicrous ideas that I knew were ridiculous but that still had power over me, along with a lifetime of deadening and confusing images that made it harder to feel emotion when important things happened, like the girl’s death that day.

I think going through that process of “untraining” was a key part of my life, and it did seem to help end the deadness I’d been feeling, just as in “18,000 Dead” my carrying the blanket outside to the motorcycle accident victim was a turning point that “broke the spell.”

MacDonald: That’s the “small positive action” you mention on the website?

Holden: Yes, That, and looking into the dead man’s eyes, looking right at the situation.

[ … ]

Holden: … I don’t know if you’ve ever worked with Super-8mm

MacDonald: Not very seriously.

Holden: Well, for me, part of the fun of Super-8mm is discovering the little chemical anomalies that happen whenever you pull the trigger or let the trigger go, and the happy accidents that happen in the darkroom or the semipro lab. Like that “transparent woman” who crosses the road where the girl was shot. The most interesting parts of the taped footage I used in “18,000 Dead” were these little explosions, errors, or chemical blemishes, which I looped.

MacDonald: In a sense the glitches in the otherwise relatively smooth continuity of the Super-8mm are like these violent moments in your experience.

Holden: Exactly. Part of what was remarkable about seeing this tape so many years after the fact is that its washed-out, watercolor-like hues and these violent flaws seemed to echo my memories of that time.

My previous post from MacDonald’s book is here.




September 2, 2015

Both the Blue and the Sky

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… The color in Toshio Shibata’s photographs is dangling in midair between local color and color itself …

This is from the essay ‘Collage and Local Color: Toshio Shibata’s New Color Works’ by Minoru Shimizu found in For Grey by Toshio Shibata (2009):

[ … ]

While editing directly from life, photographers have found it too difficult to see simultaneously both the blue and the sky.
(William Eggleston‘s Guide, p. 9)

[ … ]

… Without actually touching the framework of modern photography, Meyerowitz simply reinterpreted it. Instead of capturing “real things hidden in the background of daily life,” he pointed his camera at “real colors hidden in the background of daily life.”

[ … ]


… when discussing Toshio Shibata’s color works from the perspective of an introduction of color to a monochrome world, the cubist collage (papier collé), an art form contemporary with straight photography, and the issue of local color are much more appropriate reference points than the history of photography.

… within the new symbolic system established through the collage, such hybrid elements as lines, faces, and snippets of newspapers and cloth abandon their original meanings and take on new ones, specific to the collaged picture. That’s why, in order to become color parts of a collage, red, blue and yellow would first have to cease being red, blue and yellow, to be redefined as new colors in the system. However, as local colors can’t just stop being local colors, this new definition has to be rejected. So how can we introduce color to the collage then?

It has to happen via “straight” color photographs, and with his color works, Toshio Shibata proposes one possible solution. Every straight photograph captures a fragment of a readymade scenery, comparable to matchbox labels or pieces of wrapping paper in a collage, while every color in a color photograph can be seen as such a readymade article’s local color. Instead of combining his fragments into collages, Shibata infuses each single one of them with a collage modus, and by doing so he nullifies all local colors — the colors of dams, fields, trees, etc.


… In that perfectly balanced zero position with neither reality nor pure beauty of color — or perhaps with both at once — the mixture of various alien elements surfaces immediately. In that moment, a blue sky becomes at once the color sky blue, just like any “color of X” becomes at once the “X color,” turning color into a hybrid quality. The color in Toshio Shibata’s photographs is dangling in midair between local color and color itself which enables Shibata to forge a new type of collage with color photography …




September 1, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… a clear and simple mathematical symbol of the machine’s own strength …

This is from Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the featured artists (I’m extracting from those extracts… ) If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age by K.G. Pontus Hultén (1968):

“It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock drill, and my ardor for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill, second-hand, and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menacing, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconced. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into …

“Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.”

Jacob Epstein, The Rock Drill, 1913-14

… The confusion in Epstein’s thinking about The Rock Drill is typical of the ambivalent attitude toward machinery held then and later by many people who, for lack of a clear commitment, have been unable to define their opinions or positions toward it. As Richard Buckle has pointed out, Epstein’s concept of a masked man drilling rock “held for him the fascination of a heroic, demonic, even sexual image,” its phallic character is especially evident in some off the preparatory drawings. At the same time, as the passage from his Autobiography makes clear, Epstein also felt a kind of abhorrence and fear of the figure, which he termed “menacing,” “sinister,” “terrible,” and devoid of all humanity.

The next segment is also from Hultén’s book; this time he’s writing about Umberto Boccioni:

Umberto Boccioni, States of Mind I, The Farewells, 1911

… In a [train] station, the departures are more final — not because trains go faster and farther than stage coaches, but because those who enter into a train become part of a system, while those who stay behind are outside that system. … The numbers “6943” that rise out of [the train’s] side become a clear and simple mathematical symbol of the machine’s own strength and individuality.

Last, this is from The Paintings of Gerald Murphy by William Rubin (1974):

… The notebook entry for Wasp and Pear reads:

Picture: hornet (colossal) on a pear (marks on skin, leaf veins, etc.)
(battening on the fruit, clenched …

This is Murphy’s only convincing rendering of an organic, living thing. … Murphy had always been a careful observer of nature — “Have you ever seen the lining of a potato bug’s wings?” he wrote Sara during their courtship — and he “never forgot the large technically drawn and colored charts” of fruits, animals, and insects which he had encountered by chance during his wartime training. But despite the precision of his drawing and the accuracy of the textbook-like microscopic enlargement of the wasp’s leg, Murphy had no Audobonesque scientific concern in this image. His emphasis is on inventive patterning, as in the head and transparent wing of the wasp, and to that end he was perfectly content to omit the insect’s rear-wings.*

Gerald Murphy, Wasp and Pear, 1927

[* … and wasps don’t make honey.]

My previous post from Elderfield’s book is here.




August 31, 2015

I Have Destroyed the Ring of the Horizon

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… not to make the difficult known by rendering it familiar, but to make the familiar known anew by rendering it difficult.

Concluding A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern by Kirk Varnedoe (1989):

… [C]ultural innovation takes two. It requires someone understanding how the rules might be changed, and acting on and transforming those rules; but then it also takes someone standing on the sidelines to value this innovation rather than demeaning or suppressing it. In order for modern art to happen as it did, a diverse cast of spectators — fellow artists, a few collectors, a critic here and there, eventually a public — had to decide not to throw the aberrant players out of the game, but to see that their mischief redefined the way the game might be played.

… When Malevich, after Airplane Flying, began to paint the Suprematist pictures of the late ‘teens, with their grounds of white and pure geometric shapes, he proclaimed, “I have destroyed the ring of the horizon and got out of the circle of objects … comrade aviators, sail on into the depths!” …Here the dreams of reason, the ideals of modern science’s detached, objective knowledge, blur into the white light of mysticism.

Kazemir Malevich, Suprematist Composition: Airplane Flying, 1915

[ … ]

The sounds of the sea vanish for those who live by its shores, as the thousand-voiced roar of the town is vanished for us, as everything familiar, too well-known, disappears from our consciousness.
… We are like a violinist who has ceased to feel the bow and the strings. We have ceased to be artists in everyday life. We do not love our houses and clothes, and we easily part from a life of which we are not aware.
… Only the creation of new forms of art can return to man the sensation of the world, can resurrect things, or kill pessimism.
… Automatization corrodes things. Clothing, furniture, one’s wife, one’s fear of war. And so that a sense of life may be restirred, that things be felt, so that stones may be made stony, there exists what we call art. [Viktor Shklovski]

“A dance,” said Shklovski, “is a walk that is structured to be felt.” The role of art is literally to bring us back to our senses.

… They wanted not to make the difficult known by rendering it familiar, but to make the familiar known anew by rendering it difficult.

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




August 30, 2015

He Belongs to the Rock and the Rock Belongs to Him

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… he knows the vanity of all that crushes him …

This is from the essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus‘ found in Faux Pas by Maurice Blanchot, translated by Charlotte Mandell (2001):

… The man who suddenly thinks that he is getting old, that the word tomorrow, “later” will no longer have any meaning for him, feels himself brushed by the absurd; similarly, if he looks at a face, a stone, a piece of sky, by escaping from habitual images, he can be struck by an irreducible feeling of strangeness; and there is the impression of nonmeaning that comes to us not through exceptional states of our thinking but from the coherence and logic of our mental mechanism: the rational, from a certain point of view, is also the absurd.

… On one side [the mind] turns toward the world and sees it as reason cannot perceive it; then it turns toward man and discovers him infinitely greedy for an explanation that he cannot attain. Here it finds a reality that can be described, expressed by laws, used as a means of power but never made clear or conceived in its totality; there it finds a being who aspires without rest to clarity, who calls out endlessly, faced with the diversity that he meets, to a unity that hides itself.

… Whereas religions, in order to justify the call to unity that existence holds up to ridicule, have offered faith in some other existence that gives satisfaction to this call, whereas philosophies have constructed, above the world that collapses and flees, an essential world that survives — the absurd mind accepts the contradiction it is given as is; it encloses itself inside it, becomes aware within it, sharpens it, and far from seeking escape from it by elusions and evasions, aims to live in it as on the only passion that could satisfy it.

Sisyphus is aware; he knows the vanity of all that crushes him; he belongs to the rock and the rock belongs to him, since he can make out its overwhelming lightness.

… [reason] engages in acrobatics that consist of losing itself endlessly, then finding itself, and so on ad infinitum. Only it also sees that each time that it falls, it raises itself back up; each time it falls, its fall restores it to itself. The authenticity of “losing oneself” for reason could always be denied so long as reason has not proven that by itself, by its own means, it can destroy itself, become madness.




August 29, 2015

The Drowning Surfeit of Ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The bastard clash of that which comes in and that which would go out.

Continuing through Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… There are many images I would like to show, but they all feel reduced by the context. They become illustrations of an idea, rather than the result of less clear, inchoate provocations, all connected to the idea of Europe and Africa I have been talking about. But not in a programmatic way. I feel I should show images that deny the text of the lecture, or at least are at right angles to it. To show the excess of impulses, the excess of making — a material gluttony to describe the drowning surfeit of ideas, histories, and understandings.

… Calling the history into the studio. The bastard clash of that which comes in and that which would go out. The pressure of the material to be something else. The reams of white paper in the drawer and the ink and charcoal on the worktable, waiting for their collision.

… The studio becomes thick with geography and time, upwards and backwards, from the Herero in German South West Africa, now Namibia, in 1904; Chilembwe in Nyasaland, now Malawi, in 1915, ready to launch his rebellion; slaves being taken further north and west from the coast of Africa; Arab traders arriving from the east; Hegel among the pyramids in 1809. And north, above them all at the top of the map, Plato sitting at the edge of the cave, now looking down into its darkness, now checking the position of the sun.

It is in this impure mixture of history, ideas, and materials that sense tries to emerge — as a drawing, as a film, or here, as a lecture. I feel very strongly the lack of clarity, the jumping from subject to subject in my talk, and shift between wanting to make it smoother, to make more elegant connections, to find arcs of history that have a smoother trajectory between them; between wanting this elegant clarity of a blackboard full of equations reduced to a single line and wanting to insist on the gaps, the non-sequiturs, as it is these gaps and incompletions that make the very space where the work can emerge.

Neither chaos, nor clarity, where the saying badly becomes the pre-condition for new words to emerge.

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




August 28, 2015

It Knows Its Place

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… as I stood there at the edge of the concrete, contemplating the slug …

This is from The Night Country by Loren Eiseley (1947; 1971):

… It is as though all living creatures, and particularly the more intelligent, can survive only by fixing or transforming a bit of time into space or by securing a bit of space with its objects immortalized and made permanent in time. For example, I once saw, on a flower pot in my own living room, the efforts of a field mouse to build a remembered field. I have lived to see this episode repeated in a thousand guises, and since I have spent a large portion of my life in the shade of a nonexistent tree I think I am entitled to speak for the field mouse.

One day as I cut across the field which at that time extended on one side of our suburban shopping center, I found a giant slug feeding from a runnel of pink ice cream in an abandoned Dixie cup. I could see his eyes telescope and protrude in a kind of dim uncertain ecstasy as his dark body bunched and elongated in the curve of the cup. Then, as I stood there at the edge of the concrete, contemplating the slug, I began to realize it was like standing on a shore where a different type of life creeps up and fumbles tentatively among the rocks and sea wrack. It knows its place and will only creep so far until something changes.

… Then I came to a sign which informed me that this field was to be the site of a new Wanamaker suburban store. Thousands of obscure lives were about to perish, the spores of puffballs would go smoking off to new fields, and the bodies of little white-footed mice would be crunched under the inexorable wheels of the bulldozers. Life disappears or modifies its appearances so fast that everything takes on an aspect of illusion — a momentary fizzing and boiling with smoke rings, like pouring dissident chemicals into a retort.

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




August 27, 2015

My Only Friend

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… the … camera was just there, breathing, flickering, like a small animal.

This is from the ‘Interview with Gina Kim’ found in Adventures of Perception: Cinema as Exploration by Scott MacDonald (2009):

Kim’s first major work, the personal epic Gina Kim’s Video Diary (2002; 157 minutes), is a subtle, often troubling, generally exquisite, surprisingly intimate, sometimes wildly narcissistic coming-of-age story. Focusing on what would normally be seen as minor domestic details, and confined to Kim’s small apartment and the seemingly insignificant actions that take place there, Gina Kim’s Video Diary tracks Kim from her arrival in Los Angeles, with few resources, no friends other than her video camera, and virtually no English …

Gina Kim

All of the following is from within MacDonald’s interview with Kim:

Kim: … I was always looking for some new medium that was not completely conquered by the Genius, Modernist, Male Artist. Back then, there was something incredibly fresh about video, and I was especially intoxicated by the narcissistic feature of the medium: the instant feedback. I would hook up the video camera with the monitor and observe myself. It was like an I-watch-myself-film-myself kind of looking. When I think about it now, it sounds silly, vain, but that was a period when I really needed to find my own identity and to define myself as a female artist. I really didn’t have any role models, any mentors.

[ … ]

Kim: I started documenting myself in the fall of 1995, and then when I moved to the United States, I was recording every day, sometimes for five or six hours. That was pretty much all I ever did back then, because I didn’t have any family around, I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t speak English — I didn’t even have furniture. I was so scared to go out. The video camera became my only friend, my family, my pet, everything. Sometimes I was so lonely that I would turn the camera on just to feel that I was not alone, and to see someone, myself, moving in the monitor. This was not performative taping at all; the video camera was just there, breathing, flickering, like a small animal.

[ … ]

MacDonald: At one point in Gina Kim’s Video Diary you say, “I choose narcissism; it’s the only option when you don’t want self-pity”; is that your line or is it a quotation?

Kim: Definitely my line — nobody else would say that [laughter]; it’s a strange thing to say. I think my mother chose self-pity and I hated that; she always complained, “Oh, I made a sacrifice for you, and that’s what made my life miserable.”

[ … ]

Kim: … Gina Kim’s Video Diary is painfully narcissistic, but that was a good starting point for me in coming to terms with myself: to grow up and live, you have to understand that you exist. The only thing I could do was to look at myself and be reassured that I exist, that I’m really here, that I don’t just exist in the gaze of others, that I’m flesh and blood.




August 26, 2015

The Matter of Secrecy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… good photographs are often more richly unfinished than other pictures, are wilder, in the sense that they have in them more elements that are not fully understood and domesticated.

This is from Photography Until Now by John Szarkowski (1989):

… Any picture can of course be hung on a wall, but some pictures are at their best only at close range; if they belong on a wall at all it might be the wall of an intimate corridor, or near one’s elbow at a writing desk. Many photographs, including many of the best photographs, are best when held in the hand, and it must be said that pictures bigger than one person can hold with comfort have been a difficult challenge for photography. Part of the problem has been a technical one, and relates to the photographer’s traditional insistence that there be detail in the shadows.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The trouble with empty black shadows is that if they become bigger than, say, a thumbnail, they stop representing a dark place and begin representing merely a black shape, thus calling attention to the coated surface of the paper, which, especially in its modern manifestations, is not an intrinsically beautiful material, like bronze or marble or rubbed wood or oil pigment on linen, but instead resembles something made in a factory from petroleum derivatives and soy beans.

… But there is perhaps a deeper reason why photographers have had limited success with wall pictures, a reason that touches the issues of privacy and specificity, and perhaps even the matter of secrecy.

Only a small fraction of the world’s pictures have been designed to be seen on walls, and those are expected to speak in a more or less public and forceful way, expected even to declaim, unlike a picture that is held in the hand, as in Book of Hours, or a magazine, that speaks to one person (or to one person at a time) and thus can speak in a more confidential, and perhaps in a more dilatory, elliptical, or conversational tone, because the message is not being shared with all those others. Diane Arbus said that a photograph of two people in one bed is shocking because a photograph is private, whereas a movie showing two people in bed is not shocking because a movie is public.

A photograph may also be private in the sense that there is no designated public access to its meaning, no catalog of its constituent parts, its iconographic and formal resources. Each viewer, including the photographer who made it, must devise for the new picture a personal and provisional place among the other pictures and facts that the viewer knows. It is of course true that all good pictures contain unfinished meanings; only perfect clichés are perfectly complete.

[line break added] Nevertheless, good photographs are often more richly unfinished than other pictures, are wilder, in the sense that they have in them more elements that are not fully understood and domesticated. James Agee, pretending that the photographer was a fisherman and that the truth was a trout, said it was the photographer’s task to bring the fish to the net without too much subduing it.

… One could interpret the historical data to propose that photography has never had a dependable source of support, material or moral, even for a single generation, and that its greatest triumphs have been managed catch-as-catch-can, or within what seemed rational and stable systems that overnight proved as transient as mayflies. To repeat the litany of bankruptcies and broken hearts with which the history of photography is littered would not be useful.

[line break added] We are free to believe that Carleton Watkins and Mathew Brady and Gustave Le Gray and Charles Marville and Timothy O’Sullivan and Eugène Atget and Edward Weston and all the others would not have exchanged the work they did for a softer bed; in any case it is now too late for them to change their minds, and we have the work.

… To avoid unnecessary misunderstandings, especially their own, most photographers of ambition and high talent would prefer today to serve no instrumental functions — no “useful” goals. They wish simply to make pictures that will — if good enough — confirm their intuition of some part or aspect of quotidian life.




August 25, 2015

The Humble and Difficult Significance of his Tools

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… fantasy liquefies the world, tinting and bending it to its own desires.

… earthy observation joined with fertile abstract invention and lust for materials.

This is from Modern Painting and Sculpture: 1880 to the Present at The Museum of Modern Art, edited by John Elderfield (2004). This book uses extracts from other books to comment on the artworks it shows (I’m extracting from those extracts (!)). If that text does not refer specifically to the MoMA art that is shown in the parent book, I may choose to use some other work by the artist to illustrate my post. Today’s first is from Rodin by Albert E. Elson (1963):

The memorable sentences of the poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, who served for a time as Rodin’s secretary and remained one of his most loyal friends and admirers, stand apart with lithic durability from the glutinous sentimentality and inflated chauvinism that characterize much of the literature on the sculptor and his art. … He saw Rodin as the seeker after “the grace of the great things,” although “his art was not built upon a great idea, but … upon a craft,” in which “the fundamental element was the surface … which was the subject matter of his art.” “He was a worker whose only desire was to penetrate with all his forces into the humble and difficult significance of his tools. … ”

August Rodin, Monument to Balzac, 1898

… when he found it necessary to rethink sculpture down to “the hollow and the mound,” he forced artists, critics and the public to take stock of their own definitions and beliefs about art. … Every sculptor who came to maturity before 1914 was affected by him and had to take a stand for or against his sculpture.

… Not his death, however, but his steadfast adherence to naturalism and certain of its traditions prevented Rodin from entering into the new territories that were being surveyed and colonized by younger sculptors of the twentieth century.

The next is the parent book’s extract from Vienna 1900: Art, Architecture & Design by Kirk Varnedoe (1986):

… This kind of confusion and ornamental richness does not embellish the content of Klimt’s art, it is the content. For Klimt the maintaining of irresolution — between figure and ground, flatness and depth, object and image — was a key way to heighten the experience of art. It evoked the privileged state of a dreamlike floating in which fantasy liquefies the world, tinting and bending it to its own desires.

Gustav Klimt, Hope II, 1907-08

… These are the same combined goals — an anti-illusionist play directly on the viewer’s sensorium, and an abstract formal language attuned to universal expression — that led other European artists in these same years to decisive certainties of sharp reduction and synthesis. In Klimt they gave rise to elaboration and ambiguity. While others looked to sources in archaic and exotic art for a new economy of volume and line, Klimt saw in the same sources the heightened splendor of complexity — not only the blunt empiricism of a head by Giotto, but that head and its flat golden halo together; not only the woodcut simplicity of Hokusai’s form, but that simplification overprinted with multi-patterned kimono forms; not the white purity of Greek art at Segesta, but the rich ornament of the recent Mycenaean finds.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] For him, the exotic, archaic, and primitive arts bore evidence of a primal human love of proteiform brilliance — the doubled intensity of earthy observation joined with fertile abstract invention and lust for materials. This was the common ground that, from nomadic metalwork to Byzantine mosaics, shaped a tradition of spiritually charged art he sought to recover.




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