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

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