Unreal Nature

March 31, 2015

That Edge

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:59 am

… those for whom doubt, inquisitiveness and effortful self-questioning are exceptional or unbearable should spare themselves the disorientation and discomfort of a situation where precisely these states of mind and spirit are required.

This is from Think with the Senses: Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense by Robert Storr, who was the Director of this 52nd International Art Exhibition (the 2007 Venice Biennale) to which this book was the accompanying catalog:

Epiphanies happen but do not last. One of the functions of art is to preserve such moments of revelation in order that we may savour and study their many dimensions, as James Joyce demonstrated. The history of art is a fabric of epiphanies woven by many hands; the present tense of art is the outer edge of that work in progress. At any point in the process that edge may be ragged and uneven, and the pattern in formation disturbing and hard to discern, reflecting the difficulty of making art in troubled times. We are living in just such times.

… Such exhibitions [as this international biennial] are not for people who experience uncertainty as an ordeal. Indeed, those for whom doubt, inquisitiveness and effortful self-questioning are exceptional or unbearable should spare themselves the disorientation and discomfort of a situation where precisely these states of mind and spirit are required. Moreover, looking at, and thinking about, contemporary art demands appetite and a tolerance for things that may cause irritation as much, or more than, they do taste. After all, taste is basically conservative in nature and formed after the fact of exposure.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] As the poet Ezra Pound pointed out long ago, those who reject the new on the grounds that the moderns lack the ambition of the old masters conveniently side-step the question of their own lack of ambition as members of the art public and as active contributors to art’s meaning. So, if not knowing right away what to think or say when confronted by the new — even in small concentrations — is threatening to anyone, he or she should assiduously avoid biennials, where the concentrations are high. Art is not a warm bath for the somnolent, nor an armchair for the tired businessman, as Henri Matisse — one of the greatest moderns — once said, even as the tired businessmen of his era called him a “fauve,” or wild beast.

… Nor are biennials for people in a hurry, although breaking the public of its habit of rapidly consuming images, rather than fully registering them at a pace dictated by the medium and the uses made of it by the artist, may be hard to achieve. Yet, we who make exhibitions must still proceed on the faith that this is still possible. For, if the Situationist writer Guy Debord was right to fear the besotting effects of the spectacle, anyone attempting to arrange an encounter between the general public and contemporary art must nevertheless operate on the conviction that the viewer would ultimately prefer to be engaged rather than enthralled. This exhibition takes that latent preference as a given.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 30, 2015

Trust in the Voice that Says

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

Richter caused a disturbance by quietly making paintings that resisted every attempt to fit them into existing categories or to explain them away as deliberately insincere …

Continuing through Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… The position of most artists is different from that of critics, even for those artists given to concocting their own theories. For them, possibility takes precedence over reasoned necessity. For artists who must start over each day without any assurance that the success or failure of the previous day’s work will reliably indicate what comes next, possibility is the product of intuition, trial and error, and an instinctive trust in the voice that says Yes or No to each option that presents itself. This voice does not address art in general, but the artist in that moment of decision. Against this tentative sense of what can be done stands the constant threat of options suddenly being closed. This may happen as a result of misuse by others or of a restrictive codification of formerly productive uses, or it may be the consequence of the artist having used them well but, at the same time, having temporarily exhausted the freedom of maneuver they initially afforded.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But while aesthetic prognosticators are prone to declaring certain artistic practices obsolete based on their waning power in a given period, artists, whatever their public positions might be, seldom write off any possibility once and for all. On the contrary, the ability to see fresh opportunity in neglected or abandoned models is one of the basic ingredients of innovation. No serious artist downs his or her tools because historians and critics have deduced that nothing remains to be done; instead he or she may pick them up to probe for previously ignored openings. Moreover, such practitioners know that inasmuch as the value of any chosen convention cannot be disproven logically, neither can it be proven; the only thing that finally matters is whether its imaginative potential can be shown and whether the works it engenders supersede the paradigm and assume a life of their own.

… Between the first and second group of Color Charts Richter’s work manifested a previously uncharacteristic disparateness; indeed, it is from this time (1966 to 1971) that his habit of tacking from format to format against the main currents of contemporary art really can be dated. Casting about for subjects for his photo-based paintings, he turned to pornography, producing Student and Olympia of 1976 along the way, as well as his townscape and mountain pictures, among them Himalaya of 1968. In the meantime, Richter also painted the Door and Shadow paintings and the last of the Curtains, although in the final analysis, he professed his dislike for those exceptions to the use of ready-made motifs. In the midst of these big projects, he also made four small landscapes based on his own snapshots, three taken on vacation in Corsica, and a fourth, Bridge (by the Sea) of 1969.

… As modest as these landscape canvases may have seemed, at first glance, they could not have been more provocative. After all, who else in vanguard circles at that time dared to paint a holiday souvenir, much less one so enchanting or with such a picture-postcard allure. From this juncture, Richter had to deflect critics of his new direction from applying the label of neoromantic to his work. Some of them, like the dealer RenĂ© Block, were former supporters hostile to what he was doing, and some were critics who welcomed the new style, often out of a naive desire for the return of romanticism, which Richter had no interest of reviving.

[line break added] Nevertheless, even his opening the door to a reassessment of romanticism offered a serious challenge to the antipictorial, antipainting factions that dominated art discourse in the late 1960s and early 1970s, especially given the fact that Richter’s landscapes themselves lacked even a hint of the kind of irony to be found in Morley’s crystalline Photo-Realist renderings of tourists and ocean liners. Nor had Richter’s sfumato been manipulated in the obvious manner of Richard Hamilton’s beach scenes, similar as those were to Polke’s raster dot pictures. Instead, Richter caused a disturbance by quietly making paintings that resisted every attempt to fit them into existing categories or to explain them away as deliberately insincere exercises in formal and pictorial anachronism.

… Whereas romantic paintings generally meet viewers halfway — usually by means of a surrogate figure in the landscape that intensifies their associations and emotions while offering to lift them out of themselves — Richter’s paintings of this type are indifferent to the viewer’s needs, acknowledging by that pointed indifference that the viewer and his or her needs exist. Thus they portray natural phenomena without symbolic amplification.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 29, 2015

The Blessed Drunkenness of Pure Possibility

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… this phantasmal and unreal life of what we have not been, these figures with whom we have always had an appointment — exercised … a dangerous attraction, sometimes almost mad, that perhaps art alone allowed him to explore …

This is from the essay ‘The Turn of the Screw’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

… As the years pass and as James moves in a more deliberate way toward himself, he discovers the true significance of this preliminary work that is precisely not a work. Endlessly, he speaks of these hours of preparation as “blessed hours,” “wonderful, ineffable, secret, pathetic, tragic” instants, or even as a “sacred” time, when his pen exercises “an enchanted pressure,” becomes the “deciphering” pen, the magic needle in movement, whose turns and detours give him a premonition of the innumerable paths that are not yet traced. He calls the principle of the plot “divine,” “divine light illuminating the ancient holy little virtualities,” “divine ancient joy of the plot that makes my arteries throb, with its little sacred, irrepressible emotions.” Why this joy, this passion, this feeling of a wonderful life, which he cannot evoke without tears, to the point that his notebook, “the patient, passionate little notebook becomes … the essential part of my life”?

HenryJamesPhotograph_1890
Henry James in 1890 [image from Wikipedia]

[line break added to make this easier to read online] It is because in these hours of confiding in himself, he is grappling with the fullness of the narrative that has not yet begun, when the still undetermined work, pure of any action and any limit, is only possible, is the “blessed” drunkenness of pure possibility, and we know how the possible — this phantasmal and unreal life of what we have not been, these figures with whom we have always had an appointment — exercised over James a dangerous attraction, sometimes almost mad, that perhaps art alone allowed him to explore and plot. “The further I go, the more I find that the only balm, the only refuge, the true solution to the powerful problem of life consists in this frequent, fertile, intimate struggle with the particular idea, the subject, the possibility, the place.”

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 28, 2015

The Kind Needed

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… The kind of laws needed for prediction will depend on the kind or prediction that is being asked for …

Continuing through Causality and Modern Science: Third Revised Edition by Mario Bunge (1959; 1979):

… The trend of recent science points neither to the decausation preached by positivism in favor of purely descriptive statements of uniformity, nor to a return to traditional pancausalism. Present trends show, rather, a diversification of the types of scientific law, alongside of an increasing realization that several categories of determination contribute to the production of every real event.

… Scientific laws, or law statements, being approximate ideal reconstructions of the immanent forms of structure and process, not only enable us to answer what-, where-, ,when-, and whence-questions, but also provide perfectible answers to whys; they are the chief tools of the scientific explanation of nature, thought, and society.

[ … ]

… A pragmatic criterion, like predictability, cannot decide about the meaning of laws, or about the nature of laws. Predictability and artificial reproducibility are empirical criteria for testing the truth of law statements; the attempt to derive all the meaning of law statements from their use and from the procedures of their verification amounts to confusing truth with one of its criteria, semantics with pragmatics. Only a philosophical analysis of scientific laws can decide upon their meaning.

The kind of laws needed for prediction will depend on the kind or prediction that is being asked for; conversely, the kind of prediction that can be obtained will depend on the available laws (and specific information). Any kind of scientific law will, if true enough, allow us to perform scientific predictions of some sort; in contrast to divination, scientific forecast is just foresight grounded on an insight including a knowledge of the objective patterns of being and becoming. In brief, there is no necessary relation between causality and prediction, any more than there is between causality and explanation.

To be continued.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 27, 2015

And Hoptoads

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Contingency, contingency, and each day by word or deed the chisel falling true or blind upon the future …

This is from The Mind as Nature by Loren Eiseley (1962):

When I was a small boy I lived, more than most children, in two worlds. One was dark, hidden and self-examining, though in its own way not without compensations. The other world in which I somehow also managed to exist was external, boisterous, and what I suppose the average parent would call normal, or extroverted. These two worlds simultaneously existing in one growing brain had in them something of the dichotomy present in the actual universe where one finds behind the ridiculous, wonderful tentshow of woodpeckers, giraffes, and hoptoads, some kind of dark, brooding, but creative void out of which these things emerge — some anti-matter universe, some web of dark tensions running beneath and creating the superficial show of form that so delights us. If I develop this little story of a personal experience as a kind of parable, it is because I believe that in one way or another we mirror in ourselves the universe with all its dark vacuity and also its simultaneous urge to create anew, in each generation, the beauty and the terror of our mortal existence.

[ … ]

… There are subjects in which I have remained dwarfed all of my adult life because of the ill-considered blow of someone nursing pent-up aggression, or words more violent in their end effects than blows. There are other subjects for which I have more than ordinary affection because they are associated in my mind with kindly and understanding men or women — sculptors who left even upon such impliant clay as mine the delicate chiseling of refined genius, who gave unwittingly, in other words, something of their final character to most unpromising material. Sculptors reaching blindly forward into time, they struck out their creation scarce living to view the result.

Now, for many years an educator, I often feel the need to seek out a quiet park bench to survey mentally that vast and nameless river of students which has poured under my hands. In pain I have meditated: “This man is dead — a suicide. Was it I, all unknowingly, who directed, in some black hour, his hand to the gun?” “This man is a liar and a cheat. Where did my stroke go wrong?” Or there comes to memory the man who, after long endeavors, returned happily to the farm from which he had come. Did I serve him, if not in the world’s eye, well? Or the richly endowed young poet whom I sheltered from his father’s wrath — was I pampering or defending — and at the right or the wrong moment in his life? Contingency, contingency, and each day by word or deed the chisel falling true or blind upon the future of some boy or girl.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 26, 2015

By Insisting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… by thus resisting their reduction to symbolism, they weave into the fabric of the film their own strands of becoming and dissolution, their own contingency: so that their occurrence remains a surprise in its context, marking only a confluence of possibilities: each cut not a stark annunciation but a chord encountered en pasant in a polyphony, recruited from the flow of history to be engaged in the flow of meaning.

Continuing through Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor by Dai Vaughan (1983):

… Films afford certain images which are memorable in a very particular way. They are always documentary images (whether they occur in ‘documentaries’ or not); they usually represent moments of relative inactivity; and their memorability lies in their appearing to confer a sort of grace upon the moment recorded. Listen to Britain is rich in such images, and those shots of people untroubled at finding themselves the objects of scrutiny fall into this category; but in A Diary for Timothy they are few. (An exception is the close-up of a woman ‘discovered’ at the end of a long track along the bunks on a tube-station platform.)

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The images in A Diary for Timothy aspire toward the condition of stills [as compared to being ‘memorable’]. Indeed, they tend to work better as such than those of Listen to Britain. they aspire toward the condition of stills because they exist as images only for the contribution they make to the film’s argument (and I am not referring only to such calculated effects as the posing of the family to resemble a Raphael altarpiece while an unseen choir sing ‘Adeste Fideles’). It is not a question of how sympathetically or unsympathetically they were shot, but of the fact that the film’s meaning exhausts their meaning. That is the sense in which they are ‘cerebral.’

One characteristic of a still photograph is that its object is ‘given,’ and therefore takes on an aspect of the necessary. Those images which I describe as memorable, whilst representing moments of stasis, do not approximate to the condition of stills (and it is in this paradox that their ‘grace’ resides). The cutaways in Listen to Britain, for example, in so far as they betray an awareness of the act of filming or even simply of the world off-camera, counterpose against the chronology and discourse of the film their position at the intersection of other histories, other causalities, other discourses; and by insisting upon their own temporal dimensions, by thus resisting their reduction to symbolism, they weave into the fabric of the film their own strands of becoming and dissolution, their own contingency: so that their occurrence remains a surprise in its context, marking only a confluence of possibilities: each cut not a stark annunciation but a chord encountered en passant in a polyphony, recruited from the flow of history to be engaged in the flow of meaning.

[line break added] In other words, the presence of these moments of ‘grace’ depends not only on the selection of the image but upon the formal equilibrium maintained between the shot as witness to a past event and the shot as constituent in an enclosed semantic system. For me, A Diary for Timothy represents a rare triumph of overall conception and accumulated detail over inner disintegration; and I therefore read it, by a sort of double-reverse, in an optimistic light. Unlike other war documentaries, which both substantiate and articulate our memories, A Diary for Timothy shows England as a totally unfamiliar place: and this, which may again result from the film’s formal incohesion, is for me the fascination of it.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 25, 2015

Out of His Own Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… fully knowing, full in the light, though, as the near horizon showed, there would be an end of seeing.

This is from Wendell Berry’s essay, ‘Remembering Gene Meatyard‘ (May 16, 1990):

… Gene’s ruling principle, as man and artist, I think, was to keep out of his own light. And one of his principles, as a man, was to keep quiet about his principles.

Meatyard_Lucybelle_04
[all pictures are from Meatyard’s Lucybelle Crater project]

[ … ]

… After he became ill with cancer, Gene continues to come with his family to visit us on Sundays. He continued to come after he was unable to swallow food; he would sit in the living room while the rest of us ate dinner in the kitchen. And he never conceded by so much as a look that these circumstances were the least bit out of the ordinary. Though he was dying, what he was doing was living.

Meatyard_Lucybelle_03

Sometime toward the end, Gene made three photographs of himself rising up and going over the top of a grassy ridge. He never saw these pictures; they were developed after his death by his friend, Bob May, and shown not long afterward in an exhibit of his work at Doctor’s Park in Lexington. I had not heard of them; I came upon them unexpectingly. And this was my last, and in a sense my fullest, encounter with Gene. These photographs were his elegy and farewell, and their impact was physical. They came down like a sudden handclap upon everything I knew of him and felt about him. They removed at a stroke my fear that Gene, in refusing any concessions to illness, had somehow been ignoring it. He had been going away from us as he now revealed himself to us: fully knowing, full in the light, though, as the near horizon showed, there would be an end of seeing.

Meatyard_Lucybelle_02

My most recent previous Meatyard post is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 24, 2015

The Sum Will Never Be the Same

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… Human nature, … is the sum of human contradictions … ; add up those contradictions two or more times in a row …

This is from the essay ‘I Am I Because … ‘ by Robert Storr in Art:21: Art in the Twenty-First Century (2001). In the segment quoted, Storr is discussing the dog photographs of William Wegman:

“I am I because my little dog knows me.” So said the American writer Gertrude Stein.

… In theory at least, these displaced perspectives are multiplied by the number of dogs or companions one has had. Thus, the simplest of phrases may lead us into a hall of mirrors in which our identity is reflected back on us from so many angles and with so many distortions that the self that is projected onto the mirrors is lost in a crowd of alter egos.

wegman_womanInChair
[by William Wegman]

As far as thinking you have a hold on your identity because your dog recognizes you is concerned, Stein added, “That does not prove anything about you it only proves something about your dog.” If, like Stein, you credit dogs with the ability to distinguish among humans in all their protean facets, then the question arises of how many sides the personality of a given dog might encompass, followed by the question of how those different aspects might be revealed, and under what circumstances, and to whom. In short order, our hall of mirrors becomes a sparkling labyrinth peopled with a kaleidoscopic display of women and men and their best canine friends.

wegman_Art21
[by William Wegman]

… Human nature, such as it is, is the sum of human contradictions with this important qualification; add up those contradictions two or more times in a row according to the experiences of two or more people, or even the same person on two or more days, and the sum will never be the same.

Wegman-wPuppy

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 23, 2015

Extracted from Its Historical Envelope

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

Richter used the working premise of the inventory to assess contemporary reality from top to bottom, revamping the traditional genres …

Continuing through Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… “Do you know what was great? Finding out that a stupid, ridiculous thing like copying a postcard could lead to a picture. And then the freedom to paint whatever you felt like. Stags, aircraft, kings, secretaries. Not having to invent anything any more, forgetting everything you meant by painting — color, composition, space — and all the things you previously knew and thought. Suddenly none of this was a prior necessity for art.”

If read one way, this list of possibilities has an averaging effect, as though the principal benefit of photomechanical technology were the equivalency it established between stags and aircraft, kings and secretaries. Read another way, the list evokes Richter’s excitement at the prospect of these secondhand images giving him the raw data with which to paint the world. To a considerable extent, that is precisely what he did. More so than any Pop artist or Photo-Realist of the time, Richter used the working premise of the inventory to assess contemporary reality from top to bottom, revamping the traditional genres — figure composition, still life, landscape, portraiture — while exploring wide-ranging subject matter.

… A century before, Charles Baudelaire, writing about a minor painter, Constantin Guys, while at the back of his mind thinking about a major one, Manet, had described what he called “The Painter of Modern Life,” whose task it was to catch the “transient, the fleeting, the contingent,” that is modernity and give it the immobility of art, to “extract from fashion the poetry that resides in its historical envelope.” Transposing the frozen action of the photograph into the enduring but temporally ambiguous realm of painting, Richter fastened on the emblems and ephemera of postwar life and distilled their often bitter essence in tonal pictures whose poetry is a combination of matter-of-fact watchfulness and unrelieved uncertainty.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

March 22, 2015

The Cold Dreamlike Reign of Abstraction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… it is the ability to give meaning that abandons us to the imperceptible action of what is hidden behind meaning …

This is from the essay ‘Broch’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003):

… Why does reality necessarily give way to symbol, and symbol to the symbol of the symbol? What happens when one must decide on abstraction? We live in a prodigious discord. Man is scattered and discontinuous, and not temporarily, as has occurred at other times in history — but now it is the very essence of the world to be discontinuous. As if one had precisely to build a world — the universe, the most total and unified assertion — on the dislocated, discordant, and fragmented quality of being, or on the defects of man.

… Nature on one hand, mathematics on the other expose us to the empty demand of infinity. [ … ] To transform what is irrational and without value into a rational absolute — that is the task, one that necessarily fails. For two reasons: what we call “irrational” remains inaccessible; we can only come near to it; we can trace around it always narrower circles, we can integrate it into calculations, but it always hides itself at the end so that we never know anything of the nonmeaning that impregnates our way of acting. “Man knows nothing of ‘the intrusion from below’ to which he is exposed, and he knows nothing of it, because at each step and at each moment he finds himself inside a system of values that has no other aim than to conceal and tame all the irrational by which our life linked to earth is driven.” It is light that prevents us from seeing, it is the ability to give meaning that abandons us to the imperceptible action of what is hidden behind meaning and acts through this very dissimulation.

But there is something even graver: reason, deductive or dialectic, moved by the irrepressible force of questions, leans toward the absolute. The rational wants to become the super-rational. Logical impulse supports neither pause nor point of equilibrium; it no longer tolerates form, dissolves all content, organizes the cold dreamlike reign of abstraction.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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