Unreal Nature

April 30, 2015

It’s a Marriage

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

How do you know when you’re ready to take on that responsibility?

This first is from the interview with Michael Kahn found in Selected Takes: Film Editors On Editing by Vincent LoBrutto (1991):

… A director makes or breaks a film. This man does everything on the film and I’m one of those spokes on a wheel, but I’ve got to know where he’s at. You’re building, taking pieces of film, digging out the values and structuring it. A lot of directors tell you exactly what they want, but it’s not what they say, it’s what they feel. I try to get into what I think they feel and then I build the scenes. Some directors shoot pieces, they don’t shoot scenes. In Fatal Attraction, there were a lot of lovely pieces, the action scenes, the love scenes. You have to take them and structure them, give it order, form, symmetry, and make it work with the overall view. Sometimes you have a lot of little scenes that work but the totality doesn’t work. So you’ve got to always think about the whole.

[ … ]

Do you work the same way with all directors?

For some directors you have to change your personality. They demand something from you besides your work. They want a certain kind of personality. If you’re going to be a right arm to a director, you’ve got to assume that role. I’ve gotten along with all of my directors because I have the ability to change myself. Like anything in life, the guy who succeeds is the one who has the ability to adapt, to make it happen.

This next is from the interview with Richard Marks:

[ … ]

How would you define what an editor does on a film?

When you shoot scenes you tend to shoot beginnings, middles, and ends. One of the prime functions of an editor in sizing down a film is to make scenes flow into one another. When you distill scenes, you tend to lose pieces of beginnings, of ends, and sometimes hunks out of the middle. Distillation is really what we do, because something may work well on paper, but when you use it full blown on film it may be saying the same thing six times. In the cutting of a scene, a great moment or a wonderful look by an actor can replace a line or two of dialogue. Cutting a film is an ongoing process where you really try to distill the essence of the idea behind the script.

[ … ]

How do you select your projects?

… A good script can be ruined by bad people and a bad script can be made better by good people. As an editor, you spend a long time locked up with someone in a room, and ultimately, you want to know that you can get along. It’s not like shooting a film. We’re not gone in eight or twelve weeks; we’re there for a long haul. It’s a marriage.

[ … ]

Everyone says that the hardest thing to do is to make the leap to editor. How do you know when you’re ready to take on that responsibility?

Dede Allen [Marks’s teacher/mentor] recommended me for an Alan Pakula film [Klute]. I went to see Alan. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was a kid, 24 years old. I read the script, I talked to him and, based on Dede’s recommendation, he offered me the film. I went home and thought about it. I had a long talk with my wife about what I should do. I was terrified of saying no, because I felt I was blowing an opportunity out of the water, but I think I was more terrified that I really didn’t feel confident enough in myself to take on the responsibilities of a big film. I felt if I blew it, I’d have a hard time getting a second chance, so I decided to pass on it. … [P]sychologically I wasn’t ready for it. Most of what we do has to do with our own sense of ourselves, and if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re going to blow it. It is always more important to make the time to find confidence in yourself.




April 29, 2015

What Begins to Appear in Its Place

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… The view through this window constitutes a kind of blind spot, therefore a banality so perfect and smooth that consciousness may slip right through …

This is from the essay ‘To Look at Nothing with Longing’ by Jan Tumlir in Nowhere Near by Uta Barth (1999):


… Even Walter Benjamin could sense already by the early part of this century that a spectacular threshold had been broached, and that the general public was shifting enmasse into crisis mode, shutting down. Here, also, the response is described as a progressive numbing, almost a sensual de-evolution as our once complex faculties are gradually reduced to the rudimentary condition of, as he puts it, a “shock absorber.”

… it is one of the most compelling characteristics of her pictures that they appear not to be looking at, so much as for, something.


Barth could not have chosen a more familiar view, this being in fact her own home, her own yard, and exactly that place where her eyes tend most often to rest in the course of her everyday activities. But for this reason exactly it always remains to some extent unseen; more a site for visual pause or distraction, allowing the mind to remain focused on other matters, or simply zone out. For her, its most salient feature is precisely that it is given. As a subject for photographs it comes close to representing a complete lack of choice: it is just there where she is, as it were, always already. The view through this window constitutes a kind of blind spot, therefore a banality so perfect and smooth that consciousness may slip right through without registering a thing.

… each new picture appears only to wear away more of the local detail, substituting for “sense of place” an experience of almost schizoid ambient flux. Yet, ultimately, this seems to be just what Barth is after: to somehow capture that moment of perceptual drift, when vision partly surrenders its object, and even the most tranquil and intimate vistas begin to ripple and waver like a faraway mirage. Staring fixedly into this conscious breach, the image, while maintaining all of its referential clutter, is gradually emptied out, rinsed clean of meaning, and what begins to appear in its place … [I leave you in suspense … ]


… If these pictures manage somehow to gaze back at us, it is precisely because of their emphatic mediation, and not in spite of it. This is a very contemporary sort of gaze, in other words, shoring up its own history and the course of its critical theorizations, to wind up both shell-shocked and enervated, glazed-over and welling up with emotion.




April 28, 2015

What His Mind Made Out of It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… There were paths through this rubbish to the door, the easel, the fireplace, and to his bed.

This is from Albert Pinkham Ryder: Painter of Dreams by William Innes Homer and Lloyd Goodrich (1989):

… he enjoyed many associations with his fellow artists and others in the world of art, criticism, and literature and with whom he formed close and lasting friendships.

… What was Ryder really like? From those who knew him we hear the same adjectives over and over again: gentle, courteous, shy, kind, generous, otherworldly, impractical, sensitive.

Ryder’s traits of self-sufficiency, otherwordliness, and freedom from conventions were expressed in the way he kept — and viewed — his living quarters. We know that by 1896 he was living in rented rooms in an old house at West Fifteenth Street, in a drab neighborhood in Chelsea, just north of Greenwich Village. It was, as Charles Fitzpatrick reported, “one of those peculiar houses that attract professional people of small means.” Ryder’s quarters at the rear of the third floor (sometimes identified as the second floor) consisted of a large, high-ceilinged parlor, with a fireplace, and a small adjoining room in which he slept. He did not have a proper studio or even north light, most desired by artists; the house was on the south side of the street and his two windows faced a back yard with trees.

Ryder in 1905

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Ryder rhapsodized about the view: “I have two windows in my workshop that look out upon an old garden whose great trees thrust their green-laden branches over the casement sills, filtering a network of light and shadow on the bare boards of my floor. Beyond the low roof tops of neighboring houses sweeps the eternal firmament with its ever-changing panorama of mystery and beauty. I would not exchange these two windows for a palace with less a vision than this old garden with its whispering leafage — nature’s tender gift to the least of her little ones.” Although Ryder had thus romanticized the appearance of this yard, a clear-sighted visitor recalled that it was “draped with clotheslines and washings, and filled with ash barrels, garbage cans and rubbish.”

The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse), 1895-1910

In a similar vein, others recounted Ryder’s favorable responses to certain examples of cheap popular art. The painter Paul Dougherty reported that Ryder once said to him: “Paul, I have the most beautiful thing you ever saw.” Ryder pulled from his pocket a worn newspaper clipping showing “a photograph of a girl in a tooth-paste advertisement.” Dougherty said he thought that “probably Ryder did not really see the tooth-paste advertisement at all, but only what his mind made out of it; that the advertisement was simply a springboard for his imagination.”

Kenneth Hayes Miller had two similar experiences. One concerned a lamp in the hallway of the building in which Ryder lived, “a terrible affair, all decorated, with wires strung with little pink beads.” Whenever Ryder passed by, he would say, “How pretty.” Miller also told the story of J. Alden Weir cleaning Ryder’s apartment when the ailing artist had gone to the hospital. In the process, he had thrown away “a little plaster head, a cheap and tawdry thing.” Ryder always resented this, according to Miller, because “evidently he saw something beautiful in it.”

Moonlit Cove, 1890

All reports agree that his living quarters were in a state of incredible disorder. The house agent came once a year to see about repairs and painting, but Ryder would not let him in, so that his rooms were not painted or repapered all the years he lived in them. Wallpaper hung in long strips from the ceiling. He never threw anything away, and the floor became piled two or three feet high with every kind of object: old newspapers and magazines, discarded boxes, ashes, old clothes, soiled collars, empty bottles, unwashed dishes, eggshells, used tubes of paint, and dirty brushes. Over everything lay the dust of years. There were paths through this rubbish to the door, the easel, the fireplace, and to his bed. [ … ] Fitzpatrick went on to say: “He slept on a cot, but not being able to keep it clean, he abandoned it and slept on the floor. He had a fur rug given to him by Col. Wood on which he slept for some years until it was eaten up with the moths.”

… With few responsibilities, not even that of keeping up appearances, he needed little to live on. Management of money was a deep mystery to him. Checks and cash were left lying around his rooms. Once his painter-friend Horatio Walker asked him if he had any money, and Ryder replied that “there was some on paper in the cupboard.” After rummaging around he produced a check in four figures, months old.

… Although Ryder was often portrayed as a dreamer — unworldly and even otheworldly — his letters show that he had another side. Reading them, we are struck by his common sense, his practical way of dealing with day-to-day problems, and even his awareness of current political issues. In the letters, too, he expresses great warmth and affection toward his friends, though undoubtedly, as stated earlier, opening himself up more in the written word than he was able to do in person. Ryder’s letters reveal an educated and polite individual who valued close, loving, and trusting ties with a small circle of friends.

The Dead Bird, 1890-1900

All images, above, are from Wikipedia.




April 27, 2015

Style Is a Fraud

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… “I came across the phrase ‘To be purified is to will one thing.’ It made me sick.”

This is from the essay ‘Space to Paint’ by John Elderfield in the exhibition-accompanying book, De Kooning: a Retrospective (2011):

… the painter and critic Lawrence Gowing observed, originality often gets caught in “a history of inveterate misunderstanding.” Gowing was thinking of Paul Cézanne, and of how the modernist history of increasingly refined abstraction that artists, critics, and art historians constructed after Cézanne’s example would have been unacceptable to that nineteenth-century painter. For de Kooning, that same history, which preceded him, was unacceptably confining: and its continuing influence has impeded appreciation of his own originality.

De Kooning reluctantly accepted being called an Abstract Expressionist, saying, “you are with a group or movement because you cannot help it.” In fact he became the most celebrated and influential of all of them, especially during the half-decade after Jackson Pollock’s death, in 1956. In the early 1960s, though, an adjustment occurred: Pollock’s paintings, together with Barnett Newman’s, Mark Rothko’s, and Clyfford Still’s seemed to speak more articulately to the interests of materiality and the nonrelational, stripped of imagery, in the new, Minimalist art. There is truth in the frequent observation that de Kooning’s canvases, especially his Woman paintings, do not hang well on gallery walls with works by such Abstract Expressionists. (This has long posed problems at the Museum of Modern Art.) The conclusion sometimes drawn from this observation, however, is improperly disadvantaging: that his paintings are lesser because they do not fit easily with those works thought to maintain a history of increasingly refined abstraction.

Nonconformity has its advantages. Owing to their unexpectedness, de Kooning’s canvases can appear less firmly attached than those of his contemporaries to the historical moment of their creation, and therefore more present and immediate to us many decades after they were made. Still, it will not do to take them from the race of their time — de Kooning’s virtues were far from fugitive and cloistered, being shaped and having flourished within the public critical climate of mid-twentieth-century modernism in New York. “There’s no way of looking at a work of art by itself,” he said in 1959. “It’s not self-evident. It needs a history. It needs a lot of talking about … It is part of a whole man’s life.”

de Kooning, after telling us that “in art, one idea is as good as another,” gives a brief catalogue of trembling — Michelangelo, who “starts to tremble,” down to Cézanne, who “was always trembling but very precisely” — and then devoted the middle of his talk to the tyranny of an art with one idea: “Art should not have to be a certain way.” “Style is a fraud. I always felt that the Greeks were hiding behind their columns. It was a horrible idea of [Theo] van Doesburg and [Piet] Mondrian to try to force a style.” “To desire to make a style is an apology for one’s anxiety.”

… So-called “allover” painting with its weight of incident more or less evenly distributed across the surface, looks backward to early modernist perceptual painting — to the modular uniformity of Impressionism and Analytical Cubism — and forward to post-Abstract Expressionist, Minimalist painting of literal flatness, painting that, having become all “outside,” all “plane surface,” is truly without any “inside.” Poised in the middle of this modernist history, de Kooning, I believe, found it confining in its continuing utopianism — its cultural dream of a coherently bounded “one-ness” (witness the titles of critical paintings, Pollock’s One [1950] and Newman’s Onement [1948], part primal, a prelapsarian fantasy of art “before” or “beyond” figuration, and part modern American, a political fantasy …

… “I was reading Kierkegaard,” the artist recalled, “and I came across the phrase ‘To be purified is to will one thing.’ It made me sick.” No purity means no oneness. But de Kooning’s will to impurity, to many things rather than one — which is to say, to something incomplete in its unification — was not a doctrine either; it was simply that the “desire to make a style is an apology for one’s anxiety,” and better to make a picture that trembles with anxiety than one that is static because stylistically pure.




April 26, 2015

Only What Is Concealed

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… it is never already there, it always has to be rediscovered or reinvented.

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

… We are speaking of literature, work [oeuvre], and experiments; what do these words mean? It seems false to see in the art of today a simple occasion of subjective experiences or a dependence on aesthetics, and yet we never stop, when on the subject of art, talking about experiment. It seems right to see in the concerns that animate artists and writers not an interest in themselves, but a concern that demands expression in work. The works, then, should play the greatest role. But is that how it is? Hardly.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] What attracts the writer, what moves the artist, is not directly the work; it is the search, the impulse that leads to it, the approach of what makes the work possible: art, literature, and what these two words conceal. Thus the painter prefers the various states of a painting to a painting. And the writer often wishes not to finish anything entirely, leaving as fragments a hundred stories that led him to a certain point and that he must abandon to try to go beyond that point. Thus, by another surprising coincidence, Valéry and Kafka, separated by almost everything, close only in their concern to write rigorously, meet each other to affirm: “My entire work is only an exercise.”

[ … ]

… These are necessary contradictions. Only the work matters, the affirmation that is in the work, the poem in its compressed singularity, the painting in its own space. Only the work matters, but finally the work is there only to lead to the quest for the work; the work is the impulse that carries us toward the pure point of inspiration from which it comes and which it seems it can reach only by disappearing.

… the essence of literature is precisely to escape any essential determination, any assertion that stabilizes it or even realizes it: it is never already there, it always has to be rediscovered or reinvented. It is not even certain that the word literature or the word art corresponds to anything real, anything possible or anything important. It has been said that to be an artist is not to know that art already exists or that the world already is there.

[line break added] Undoubtedly, the painter goes to the museum and there gleans a certain awareness of the reality of painting: he knows painting, but his painting does not know it; his painting knows that painting is impossible, unreal, unrealizable. Whoever asserts literature in itself asserts nothing. Whoever looks for it looks for only what is concealed; whoever finds it finds only what is on this side of literature or, what is worse, beyond it. That is why, finally, it is non-literature that each book pursues as the essence of what it lives and wants passionately to discover.




April 25, 2015

Cannibalistic Indigestion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… Our symbiogenetic composite core is far older than the recent innovation we call the individual human.

This is from Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution by Lynn Margulis (1998):

… Bacteria pass their genes with abandon as one bacterium donates its genes to another. No fifty-fifty contribution exists for bacteria. Bacteria literally pick up genes, usually a few at a time. The donor may mate when “he” physically contacts “her,” a live bacterial recipient. “She” looks just like “him.” Or gene uptake may be casual necrophilia; the recipient may just grab genes shed earlier when some dead donor left them in the water. Genes snatched from the environment may be for making vitamins, gas venting, or other traits that increase chances of survival. Sometimes the genes code for proteins that permit the recipient to detoxify life-threatening poisons. Bacterial sex is always one-sided. Genes and only genes may pass into the recipient cell from anywhere: the water, a virus, or a donor dead or alive.

… The sex lives of plants and animals, by contrast, are absolutely required for embryo making. Without sex the life history of animals and plants does not unfold. At the beginning of the life cycle of plants and animals the sperm nucleus permanently fuses with that of the egg. This fusion is reminiscent of cyclical symbiotic mergers: partners recognize each other. They deploy cell emissaries. Their cell membranes actually open up to passage of (at least) nuclei. The dissolved membranes re-form as the lover cells fuse.

[ … ]

… “We,” a kind of baroque edifice, are rebuilt every two decades or so by fused and mutating symbiotic bacteria. Our bodies are built from protoctist sex cells that clone themselves by mitosis. Symbiotic interaction is the stuff of life on a crowded planet. Our symbiogenetic composite core is far older than the recent innovation we call the individual human.

[image from Wikipedia]

… Lemuel Roscoe Cleveland, while he was a professor of biology at Harvard University, published in Science magazine a very clear theory solving the problem of the origin of our kind of meiotic sex. As he studied live protoctists and saw their foibles, fumbles, and serious mistakes, he realized that fertilization began as an accident of desperation. Meiotic sex, as a strategy of survival, occurred in the aftermath of cannibalistic indigestion. Cleveland observed odd tensions in dying communities: one apparently starving mastigote devoured its neighbor; another squiggled out of the way of a hungry potential predator. Cleveland realized he was watching abortive cannibalism. Some cannibals ate and digested every last cell appendage of their victim brothers. Another might suffer indigestion and spare the nucleus and chromosomes of its intended meal. The two merged cells would form a new single cell with two nuclei and two sets of chromosomes. Cleveland, living daily in his microcosm, recognized the final cannibalistic truce. He noted that two such closely spaced nuclei fused. This was more than aborted cannibalism.

… meiotic, two-parent sex evolved only after the reduction-division of meiosis “relieved” diploidy. Eating-mating itself created irreversible gorging. As haploids ate each other they became diploids that ate each other, which became tetraploids, then octoploids, and so on. Chromosomes and bloated cells proliferated. The doubled cells with their extra chromosomes and other organelles were slowed down and even stopped in their everyday activities.

… The final refinement in the origin of meiotic sex was the perfection of the doubling/halving process so it occurred both on cue and without fail.

… The act of mating … tends to be brief. … But cell symbiosis is a deeper, more permanent and unique level of fusion. In the great cell symbioses, those of evolutionary moment that led to organelles, the act of mating is, for all practical purposes, forever.

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




April 24, 2015

That We Do Not See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… he is at heart a listener and a searcher …

This is from the essay ‘The Hidden Teacher’ found in The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley (1994, 1964):

… She knew the tug of the wind, the fall of a raindrop, the flutter of a trapped moth’s wing. Down one spoke of the web ran a stout ribbon of gossamer on which she could hurry out to investigate her prey.

Curious, I took a pencil from my pocket and touched a strand of the web. Immediately there was a response. The web, plucked by its menacing occupant, began to vibrate until it was a blur. Anything that had brushed claw or wing against that amazing snare would be thoroughly entrapped. As the vibrations slowed, I could see the owner fingering her guidelines for signs of struggle. A pencil point was an intrusion into this universe for which no precedent existed. Spider was circumscribed by spider ideas; its universe was spider universe. All outside was irrational, extraneous, at best, raw material for spider.

[ … ]

… Let man spin his web, I thought … ; it is his nature. But I considered also the work of the phagocytes swarming in the rivers of my body, the unresting cells in their mortal universe. What is it we are a part of that we do not see, as the spider was not gifted to discern my face, or my little probe into her world?

… As we turn from the galaxies to the swarming cells of our own being, which toil for something, some entity beyond their grasp, let us remember man, the self-fabricator who came across an ice age to look into the mirrors and the magic of science. Surely he did not come to see himself or his wild visage only. He came because he is at heart a listener and a searcher for some transcendent realm beyond himself.

My previous post from Eiseley’s book is here.




April 23, 2015

Electric Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… in those days it was such a sublimely happy time, that it created the muzzle velocity to do what I do.

This is from the interview with Jerry Greenberg found in Selected Takes: Film Editors On Editing by Vincent LoBrutto (1991):

How did you get your first job in film editing?

I was a failed engineering student and a complete cipher ready to be factored up to one. I was an avid moviegoer, but in my upbringing, the movies or any of the popular arts were made almost verboten. I was interested in the theater and while trying to work as a stage manager, I backed into somebody offering me a job at a sound effects editing service. I needed work. I took it and learned how to be a music and sound effects editor. It was valuable training. Work prints would come into our shop, mostly documentaries, industrials, and training films. There were all these splices in the work print. I was interested in the heads and tails — what was not in the film.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] How do you arrive at the portion of those shots to put into a film? It took somebody to make those decisions. I knew then I wanted to be a film editor. It became profound. Why did I really want to be an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer, when I knew this was in me? My opportunity came to factor zero up to one, to something I wanted. I didn’t realize I would be able to factor it up to infinity, by becoming Dede Allen’s apprentice on Elia Kazan’s America, America. That was truly magic. I won’t diminish it by saying it was only a springboard. It was never didactic. She never taught or imposed her own feelings, rather how she worked and thought. It as inspirational and rewarding.

[ … ]

Do you thing of the sequence [the car chase in The French Connection] as a classic?

There is no denying that the chase scene is talked about in editing circles. The actual shooting techniques have been done many times over. There are more limitations to what we do in film than opportunities. What we’ve learned to do best of all is to work within those limitations to alter and explore the infinite qualities within them. That is what differentiates one chase scene from another; the techniques are pretty much the same.

[ … ]

… Part of what we editors do is to understand everything that has preceded us, the other crafts. People are putting their faith in what we do to preserve what they have already done. Films are a series of details — details within details. It is important that we pay attention to all those other details: story, character development, what the cinematographer wants to see, what the actor is trying to do beyond what he or she is asked to do. All of these things should command the attention of a good editor, and I believe that they do.

[ … ]

Do you feel you are continuing the tradition of the apprenticeship system that you were trained under?

It certainly was the inspirational part of my existence working for Dede Allen and others as well. I think they all should be stated. Carl Lerner, Aram Avakian. [ … ] Their generation’s expectations about what they wished to impart created a kind of chemistry that can never be gotten again. There can be a different kind of chemistry with subsequent generations, but it never can be the same, because times do change and you have to leave it to the historians to objectively see the difference.

I can’t judge that, I’m still too much a part of it, but for me in those days it was such a sublimely happy time, that it created the muzzle velocity to do what I do. I hope to see that in younger people today, but I don’t see that right now. Things tend to be a little more held back. I see a lot of cynicism creeping into the business. Certainly, the commercial aspects of the business have always existed; we’re all prey to those things. Still there was this wonderful dedication and intellectual and political aspects, even though you were working on some dumb exploitation film. The chemistry which was created between the subordinate and the tutor in the cutting room was a very happy and electric time for those of us who were lucky enough to be a part of it.

My previous post from LoBrutto’s book is here.




April 22, 2015

What Makes Them Fictional?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… Removing the mask again does not help, because [one now] knows that transformation is possible, and that at any time you could turn into someone quite different …

This is from the essay ‘The Pig-Human’ by Karl Ove Knausgård found in Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors (2013):

Untitled #140, 1985

… This feeling of being very close to something is paradoxical and should actually be impossible, because the pig’s snout is obviously a mask; the joints between the mask and the face wearing it are lucid, and in addition, most people who look at this photograph will be familiar with Sherman’s other works, and know that she never uses any models other than herself in her pictures.

So what we see is a photographic fiction that can easily be revealed — Cindy Sherman disguised as a pig-human — but nevertheless the unease and the fascination remain. It is impossible to defend yourself against them, because, like the fiction of a novel, it is not the reality of the story that affects us but the reality of the feelings it arouses.

Untitled #150, 1985

… a woman stands in the foreground sticking out a tongue that is grotesquely large in relation to her mouth. Her face is covered in beads of sweat; she is looking upward and her irises and pupils are situated in the left-hand corner of her eyes. Below her is an area with a number of tiny people moving across it, and we realize that the woman is towering above them, and must therefore be a giantess. In this image there is no attempt at all to maintain the illusion of reality; the miniature people in the background are obviously toy figures made of plastic.

It is a game: an adult dressing up like a monster, with the help of simple items like masks and toy figures, and then taking a picture. Transformation, which has always been Sherman’s theme, is intrinsically instrumental and horizontal. It takes place on the surface, yet it always has an inherent depth as well, something vague and imprecise that appears during the transition. One thing becomes another, and when the other is an animal or a non-human, the depth becomes unfathomable. If you turn away from a small child, put on a mask and turn around again, the child becomes terrified. Removing the mask again does not help, because now the child knows that transformation is possible, and that at any time you could turn into someone quite different, a stranger, something non-human.

… Right from her breakthrough with Untitled Film Stills, a series of over eighty photographs from 1977 to 1980, Sherman’s theme has been the visible element of identity, its surface. The film stills resemble one another. They all represent a single woman in a room or in a place where no one else is present, caught in the middle of a scenario, which seems to be hinted at by her pose and a few props. Nevertheless, they are distinctly different. The woman has dark hair, blond hair, long hair, short hair; she is dressed in a skirt, trousers, dress panties, blouse, T-shirt, shirt, coat, sweater, pajamas, swimsuit; she wears a hat, sunglasses, glasses, a diving mask, shoes with low heels, high heels, pumps, slippers; she is smoking, resting, weeping, in a kitchen, on a veranda, in front of a bathroom mirror, on a sandy plain, in a garden, in front of a church, outside a railroad station, in a doorway, in front of a skyscraper, in a bed, in a library, by the sea, in a gateway, in a corridor, in a window, in a bedroom, in a living room, outside wading in a stream, sitting on the ground in a forest, standing alone in the dark on a road with a suitcase in front of her.

…What makes them fictional?

My most recent previous post on Sherman is here.




April 21, 2015

Descent from the Upper Altitudes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… we may catch a brief downward glimpse of intimate spaces like those where we will finally come to rest …

This is from Mapping by Robert Storr (1994):

… Like the tale told of Zeuxis, the Greek artist who painted a picture of a bunch of grapes so true that birds came to pick at it, Borges’s little fiction [‘Of Exactitude in Science’] which is also a fable of civilization’s vainglory and decline, belongs to the lore of illusion, and to the special branch of aesthetic literature that has long toyed with the possibility that at some magical point the distinction between the real and its copy might cease to exist. Like Carroll’s vignette [in Sylvie and Bruno], moreover, it is a playful demonstration of a corollary law of redundant representation, for when any macrocosmic surrogate reproduces its subject in every detail it becomes useless.

… The myriad shapes that lock together in maps like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle have myriad reasons for being. The majority are painful. It is in the nature of boundaries to be contested, and, from the impersonal distance of a globe spinning under the poised finger of a warlord, the carving-up of territory resembles a kind of megalomaniacal sculpture.

… Several years ago I was guided through the wood-paneled offices of a derelict film studio. Opposite what had been the movie mogul’s art deco desk was a mural map of the world, with the reassuringly prosaic graphic appeal of my elementary-school geography text. There was something subliminally troubling about it, however, and a long hard look was required before I realized that absent from it was any demarcation of the principal countries of Europe, which were tinted an overall faded scarlet. Only then did I check the date, which was 1943.

That was the year Casablanca premiered. The film opens to the image of a turning clay globe suspended in cottony sky. As the cinematographer closes in on France, he cuts to double-exposed images of heavily burdened civilians on the road and tramp steamers at sea, superimposed on a scrolling map of the route from Paris to North Africa. The spatial poetics of this sequence are complex. The animated line that charts the exodus moves more rapidly than the slogging pace of the refugees, while the theater audience’s perspective is that of someone securely aloft in an aircraft.

… Descent from upper altitudes entails an accelerating transition from macro- to microcosm. Continent telescopes into country, country into region, region into city, city into street, street into building, and building into a single window through which we may catch a brief downward glimpse of intimate spaces like those where we will finally come to rest at the end of the journey.





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