Unreal Nature

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):

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… 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.

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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 … ]

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… 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.

-Julie

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