Unreal Nature

July 31, 2015

A Green Darkness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… It is in the mind that the flight commences.

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

… The fact that I wear the protective coloration of sedate citizenship is a ruse of the fox — I learned it long ago. the facts of my inner life are quite otherwise. This is how it began for me.

It begins in the echoing loneliness of a house with no other children, in the silence of a deafened mother; in the child head growing strangely aware of itself as it prattled over immense and solitary games. The child learned that there were shadows in the closets and a green darkness behind the close-drawn curtains of the parlor; he was aware of a cool twilight in the basement. He was afraid only of noise.

Noise is the Outside — the bully in the next block by whose house you had to pass in order to go to school. Noise is all the things you did not wish to do. It is the games in which you were pummeled by other children’s big brothers, it is the sharp, demanding voices of adults who snatch your books. Noise is day. And out of that intolerable sunlight your one purpose has been given — to escape. Few men have such motivations in childhood, few are so constantly seeking for the loopholes in the fern where the leaves swing shut behind them. But I anticipate. It is in the mind that the flight commences. It is there that the arc lights lay their shadows. It is there, down those streets past unlit houses that the child runs on alone.




July 30, 2015

Male Sexuality Is a Bit Like Air

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Just as whiteness has also done, it ‘secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular’ …

This is from Men’s Cinema: Masculinity and Mise en Scène in Hollywood by Stella Bruzzi (2013):

… it falls to Hunt to don the hi-tech lycra climbing gear, goggles and a pair of computer-controlled sucker gloves with which he is supposed to scale eleven storeys up [they are already near top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai] and seven units along in 26 minutes to override the computer settings. After helping to remove one of the glass windows (wincing ‘Oh, that’s high’ as he carries it off), Benji explains the gloves’ simple colour-coded light system: ‘blue is glue,’ ‘And red?’ Ethan asks — ‘is dead,’ Benji replies as nonchalantly as he can. The next edit heralds excitement, anticipation and dread: framed from behind, Cruise steps gingerly on to the discarded window’s ledge; the smooth camera follows, goes up and over his shoulder and continues on until it is looking vertically down over his head. Vertiginous images of the heroes’ seemingly impossible feats or escapes from tall buildings are commonplace in the modern action film, couched within the technically audacious, visually complex sequences, made up of a rich array of images, angles, shot lengths that doubtless many spectators watch only with their eyes half shut.

In Ghost Protocol‘s rendition of this obligatory sequence, Cruise steps out into the whistling wilderness; the camera rolls behind him to get a better look, giving the impression that we — as we will feel at various junctures in the sequence — are stranded in mid-air with nothing to support us. Cruise attaches a sucker mitten purposefully to the glass windows that reflect back the surrounding scenery, thereby minimising still further any distinctions between building and atmosphere.

[following the usual numerous near-miss catastrophes capped by success, ‘Hunt’ returns down the face of the building]

… Making effective use of an anchored roll of cord (again, the precariously secured rope or cord has become a regular men’s cinema motif), he hurls himself through the window with the cord tied around his waist. The introductory chords of the Mission: Impossible theme tune start up as, like some anarchic virtual reality fairground ride, the camera throws itself smoothly out after Hunt, hurtling towards the ground. [ … ] The cord runs out and Ethan [Hunt] is stopped in his tracks, leaving Brandt to shout up helpfully (from yet another angle — this time from over Hunt’s shoulder looking down): ‘your line’s not long enough.’ Ethan replies, ‘no shit,’ looks (framed tightly now) over his shoulder and, as a robust, assertive, brass-led arrangement of the Mission:Impossible music blasts away, charges back the way he came, perpendicular to the skyscraper. As he gets to the building’s corner, Ethan, on the beat, releases himself into the sky in a perfect arc. The macho leitmotif is suppressed and gives way to altogether wispier and more tentative violins as, spanning a patchwork of short and diverse individual shots, Agent Hunt builds up sufficient momentum to launch himself at the window where Brandt and Carter are standing.


[ … ]

Richard Dyer outlines the possible reasons for the absence hitherto of critical writing on masculinity as a concept and a style when he remarks:

One would think that writing about images of male sexuality would be as easy as anything. We live in a world saturated with images, drenched in sexuality. But this is one of the reasons why it is in fact difficult to write about. Male sexuality is a bit like air — you breathe it in all the time, but you aren’t aware of it much. Until quite recently, what was talked about was the mysterious topic of female sexuality, or else, the subject of deviant male practices. Ordinary male sexuality was simple sexuality, and everyone knew what it was.

[ … ]

… Masculinity, as a concept and a style within film studies, was taken for a long time to be the universal, the known, not the ‘other’ which more urgently merited critical scrutiny and redefinition. Just as whiteness has also done, it ‘secures its dominance by seeming not to be anything in particular’ and yet, under scrutiny, ‘is often revealed as emptiness, absence, denial, or even a kind of death’ (Dyer, 1993). Similarly, in subjecting to scrutiny ‘masculinity’ in Hollywood movies, and not taking either masculinity’s or Hollywood’s invisible hegemony as givens, is symbolically to bring ‘a kind of death’ to both. Extending Dyer’s ideas, Nicola Rehling, in Extra-Ordinary Men: White Heterosexual Masculinity in Contemporary Popular Cinema, identifies her reasons for examining Hollywood films:

Popular films are often far more complex than they tend to be given credit for (rather like straight men) and frequently contain ruptures, gaps, tensions, and incoherencies that indicate collective anxieties and desires, as well as ideological conflict (as do straight men).

My study takes as its starting point the need to examine what ‘everyone knows,’ namely the most mainstream, omnipresent and ‘ordinary’ forms of cinema, and identifies within this universal what can positively be defined as ‘men’s cinema’ as opposed to what is merely taken for granted.

… Just as the ‘normal sexual aim,’ in its purest manifestation of heterosexual penetrative sex, is neurotic so heterosexual masculinity, in its most pared down form (Sylvester Stallone’s monosyllabic Rambo, for example), is hysterically two-dimensional, stripped of normality and ultimately perverse. Men might aspire to an ideal of masculinity but, unless they are odd and dysfunctional, they cannot embody it, for to do so successfully would be perverse. Masculinity, like ‘normal sexuality,’ is the sum of its perversions.




July 29, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… black-and-white photography … sets up its subjects as anthropological case studies, … [C]olor [on the other hand] … contests the anthropological tendency of reportage and restores its subjects to their position as people with names and proper places — that is to say, as humans.

This is from the essay ‘Photography After the End of Documentary Realism: Zwelethu Mthethwa‘s Color Photographs’ by Okwui Enwezor found in the Aperture monograph, Zwelethu Mthethwa (2010):

” … I started taking colour portraits at Crossroads — an informal settlement outside Cape Town. Photographs of informal settlements prior to the elections in 1994 were mostly black-and-white images. The photographers weren’t shooting for themselves, they were on assignment and black and white was used to suit political agendas of the time. For me, these images missed a lot of the colour of informal settlements. I wanted to give some dignity back to the sitters. I wanted them to have a sense of pride, and for me, colour is a dignifying vehicle. The fact they’ve allowed me into their personal spaces meant that I had to dignify them.”

Zwelethu Mthethwa, from his Interiors series, 1995-2005

In responding to what he perceived as the undignified manner in which black-and-white imagery situated its subjects, Mthethwa was clearly reflecting on the relationship between photography and humanism. In a way he was responding to ubuntu, a philosophical idea derived from Zulu that defines intercultural and interhuman relations; it describes how human beings respond to each other in social contexts. In a sense, ubuntu not only frames, it is, in the classical definition of humanism, an affirmation of human dignity.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The call for recognition embodied in ubuntu is captured by the Zulu phrase “Umuntu ngumuntu, ngabantu” (A person is a person through other people). This is not unlike the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’s idea of “being for the other.” These articulations of humanism and concern for the other register powerfully in the struggle between black-and-white photography, as a medium that sets up its subjects as anthropological case studies, and color, which allegedly contests the anthropological tendency of reportage and restores its subjects to their position as people with names and proper places — that is to say, as humans.




July 28, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… The modern artist’s task was to create equivalents … free from any residual association with familiar things.

Continuing through the essay ‘Abstract Expressionism’ by Kirk Varnedoe in “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern edited by William Rubin (1984):

… Probing for the fundamentals of man’s modes of representation and their connections to natural law was central to the whole endeavor of advanced American art in the forties. And it is here, in the imagery rather than in the rhetoric, and on this deeper level of meanings, that the new American primitivism connected most forcefully to a larger set of issues. Here it reaches beyond its roots in Surrealism, and beyond the particular pragmatic or political concerns of its own day, to attach itself most significantly to basic currents ongoing in modernist primitivism since Gauguin, and to the larger issues of primitivism as a pursuit of Western artists and intellectuals since the eighteenth century.

… The triadic association between “untutored” forms of expression, the innermost sources of creation, and the basic forces of nature is a constellation going back at least to the writings of Herder. The dovetailing by artists of the forties of simultaneous interests in prehistoric writing, scientizing natural history, and tribal art is another formulation of this recurrent nexus. In this view, Primitive arts — the unselfconscious poetry of tribal song, or the configurations of the bushman’s design — are seen as shaped by a suprapersonal emotional/psychological necessity and as destined for an integral role in collective life.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Their forms are thus identified with the dream, central to modern nonrepresentational art, of universal signs, representations simultaneously cultural (of the human mind, not slavishly imitative of nature’s appearances) and natural (linked directly to universal meanings in a way that escapes contingency). Such signs would rise from and address levels of consciousness at which the problematic barriers between body and mind, between self and society, between the laws of nature and the productions of men, are permeable if not dissolved. Primitivism has thus been recurrently joined, throughout its existence as a mode of Western thought, with speculation on the origins of language and the nature of signs, and with the search for an absolute or “natural” art in harmony with immutable, universal forms of meaning.

… Rothko spoke with envy of the “archaic” artist’s privilege of living in a society where transcendent art could find its expression in communally valid hybrids of human and animal form. The modern artist’s task was to create equivalents for these “monsters and gods” in new forms, free from any residual association with familiar things.

To be continued.

My previous post from Varnedoe’s essay is here.




July 27, 2015

But What Kind of Faith?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.

Last post from Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe (2006):

… What matters in abstract art is not involuntary firing of neurons, not our ability to recognize the duck or the rabbit. Making is more powerful than that. Our humanity and our culture are not to be based on what is involuntary but on our will to make things that form a second nature by invention and imagination. Making in art is not just a corollary of problem solving, of producing schemas that tell you whether it is a duck or a rabbit, of producing things that are corollaries for the discovery of existing truths. Instead, making is the capacity of constructing autonomous symbol systems that have a huge variety of so-called natural grammars and rules of order that are in mutation throughout history.

Making is the invention of autonomous systems, like abstraction. And what then replaces matching? What are the criteria? What is the correction? How do we make progress? How do we measure whether we have moved ahead? There is only bottomless debate, fragmented and plural consensus, with overlapping edges that evolve through history with no fixed goal. Instead of the model of constant correction, or getting closer and closer to some absolute order, what we are always about in culture is getting better locally, with no idea of any final best. This is an order not based on any natural or involuntary sequence or progression, a making not simply discovered or matching some standard but rather based on a process of invention and constant debate. This is why abstract art, and modern art in general, being based on subjective experience and open-ended interpretation, is not universal or the culmination of anything in history but the contingent phenomena of a modern, secular, liberal society.

Richard Serra, Vortex, 2002

… Our common culture — the thing that we call our common culture, what is part of our society — comes, I am arguing, precisely from what is not shared among us. It is not the universal wiring, not the neurology, not the absolute forms of things external to us. The crucial motor generating cultural change, churning out the new, is best found in modern society in private visions, even when those visions are seemingly stupid, banal, hermetic, and utterly particular.

… [Abstraction] is not the production of forms of order that are not recognizable as order, but vehicles of feeling that seem impersonal, vessels of intelligence that appear utterly dumb. Abstract art is a symbolic game, and it is akin to all human games: you have to get into it, risk and all, and this takes a certain act of faith. But what kind of faith? Not faith in absolutes, not a religious kind of faith. A faith in possibility, a faith not that we will know something finally, but a faith in not knowing, a faith in our ignorance, a faith in our being confounded and dumbfounded, a faith fertile with possible meaning and growth.

… I believe in abstract art. If I have not been able to justify it, I can perhaps say with the pragmatist, with the liberalist: There it is. I have shown it to you. It has been done. It is being done. And because it can be done, it will be done.

And now, I am done.

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




July 26, 2015

We Are Called to Testify

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

This is from the essay ‘The Ease of Dying’ found in the collection, Friendship by Maurice Blanchot (1997):

… a distance, an interval, and a void of sorts; a small impassable abyss that is nonetheless, at every moment and out of distraction, passed over (but never abolished) every time that language functions …

… Therefore, one must not be fooled by the modesty of expression: it is a formidable experience, to which we are called to testify.

Next is from ‘The Laughter of the Gods’ in the same collection:

… Existence simulates, it dissimulates, and it dissimulates the fact that even when it is dissimulating and playing a role, it continues to be authentic existence, and thus with an almost inextricable malice, binds the simulacrum to true authenticity.

Finally, from ‘A Note on Transgression’:

… The rhapsodic narrative, of which we are all tributary, is constituted by repeating itself around strange names — formidable, enigmatic, external to the language of the community — one does not know what they name, nor is it proper to stop them, rather, one should enclose them in the space of the narrative.




July 25, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am


This is from Six Drawing Lessons: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, 2012 by William Kentridge (2014):

… About ten months ago, I telephoned my father to say that I had been invited to deliver this series of lectures.

“Well,” he replied, “do you have anything to say?”

“But you understand it is a great honor to be asked to give the Norton Lectures.”

“Indeed,” he said, “and now you have that honor. You don’t have to accept.”

… On the first day I started thinking about the lectures, I made a note, a caution to myself, which I repeat today:


Notes like this one are an essential part of the preparation process. I listed every thought I had ever had, or remembered someone else’s having. I divided them by six — in many different ways, as if in their different arrangements some new thought would emerge. I wrote them on pieces of paper and pinned them to the walls of the studio.


I added them to drawings I was making.





July 24, 2015

Last Idol for our Worship

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:32 am

… That idol, that uncreate and ruined visage which confronts us daily …

This is from the essay ‘How Natural is “Natural”?’ found in The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley (1978):

… I too am a many-visaged thing that has climbed upward out of the dark of endless leaf falls, and has slunk, furred, though the glitter of blue glacial nights. I, the professor, trembling absurdly on the platform with my book and spectacles, am the single philosophical animal. I am the unfolding worm, the mud fish, the weird tree of Igdrasil shaping itself endlessly out of darkness toward the light.

… “The special value of science,” a perceptive philosopher once wrote, “lies not in what it makes of the world, but in what it makes of the knower.”

… well over a hundred years ago, Kierkegaard observed that maturity consists in the discovery that “there comes a critical moment where everything is reversed, after which the point becomes to understand more and more that there is something which cannot be understood.”

… “What we make natural, we destroy,” said Pascal. He knew, with superlative insight, man’s complete necessity to transcend the worldly image that this word connotes. It is not the outward powers of man the toolmaker that threaten us. It is a growing danger which has already afflicted vast areas of the world — the danger that we have created an unbearable last idol for our worship. That idol, that uncreate and ruined visage which confronts us daily, is not less than man made natural. Beyond this replica of ourselves, this countenance already grown so distantly inhuman that it terrifies us, still beckons the lonely figure of man’s dreams.




July 23, 2015

Embrace that Fact and Use It to My Advantage

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… If you don’t do that, you lose your audience …

This is from the interview with Victor Livingston in First Cut 2: More Conversations with Film Editors by Gabriella Oldham (2012):

[ … ]

… there is something to be said for changing the location of a scene or beat in a story in unexpected places. It stimulates an audience — if it’s not confusing — and gives them more to digest in the course of the scene. Of course, those opportunities don’t offer themselves very often.

Do you think such creative liberties call into question whether you are being true to the situation or time in which things happen in a documentary? Wouldn’t they jar an audience?

I hope they do jar an audience! There’s nothing more documentary than a technique that helps you illustrate your subject and shed light on it in a nonconventional and intriguing way. As I recall, at the time I felt it was also a nice surprise that would keep the audience entertained and engaged. I am far more concerned about keeping a film entertaining than I am about showing things strictly as they happened. In any case, as soon as you put two shots together in the editing room, you are manipulating the “reality” of what happened. There’s simply no way to avoid it, so I’d rather embrace that fact and use it to my advantage. I use this technique to make the subject and its presentation more interesting to the audience and to myself. That’s the bottom line, keep things interesting and keep the story moving. If you don’t do that, you lose your audience and you might as well not make a film.

[ … ]

… the most important thing in both a documentary and a fiction film is story, and to tell a story that is coherent and flows, you have to take liberties. You can’t get bogged down in every detail of how something happened and everything that led up to it. It’s too tedious. Good documentaries and good narrative films both propel an audience from heightened moment to heightened moment. We don’t go to movies to see ordinary everyday things, real “reality.” That’s boring.

[ … ]

… To me, film is so much more about emotion and atmosphere than meaning — it’s more than real meaning — because it’s hard to get very deep with a film and keep the audience engaged. Changing the atmospherics and surprising an audience help to keep their attention and hopefully reinforce the mood you want to create.

[ … ]

I want to revisit a phrase you used earlier that’s been nagging at me. You said that it’s hard to get “deep” with a film. I’m not sure I understand what you mean as your documentaries seem to be very deep and profound in both content and execution.

I mean that because the nature of the film medium is immediate and visceral, it’s hard to get “deep” ideas or concepts. In the course of film history, we have trained audiences to want to be entertained. Roger Corman maybe understood better than anyone in the history of film that that is why lots of people go to see films and that’s how you get the money to pay for the films you’ve made in order to make another film. You have to give audiences what they want.

[ … ]

… Filmmakers feel enormous pressures to come up with bigger and better sensations and surprises to satisfy the audience, and I don’t think documentaries are immune to this at all. Only a certain segment of audiences will sit still for any documentary, but those who do still have the same hunger for a lively and entertaining text, regardless of how delicious the subtext may be. I have to agree with Corman that this is a reality every filmmaker must come to terms with.

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




July 22, 2015

Integral to their Earth

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… [They were] … only an experiment in humanity.

This is from the essay ‘Alvarez Bravo & Mexico’ by Alex Castro found in M Alvarez Bravo by Jane Livingston (1978):

Alvarez’ work is peopled by the Indian and the peasant; they inhabit their world without noise or action. They are the figures who silently project a timelessness intrinsic to Mexico. It is important that Alvarez’ photographs seldom show anything that would give them specificity of time or place: the boy drinking in Sed pública (Public thirst), the woman of Caja de visionies (Box of visions) could be of any time.

Throughout the Spanish world of the 30s there was a growing use of the native elements of each culture as subject for art. This interest paralleled the experiment with primitive art by European artists such as Modigliani and Picasso. Yet even within this tendency, Alvarez’ particular focus seems especially individual. [ … ] The persistent tranquility of the people in his photographs asks nothing, but rather seems reflective of an existence, a philosophic condition to be assumed. Unaffected by change, integral to their earth, these peasants, these Indians, are directly equated by Alvarez to their progenitors, the Aztec and the Maya.

M Alvarez Bravo, Sed pública, (Public thirst), 1934

… Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Rulfo’s llano, Alvarez’ pueblo, all demand of the reader and viewer that he see the world presented without preconception and that he do the work of understanding the fine grain of the regional and of fixing the universal within it. It is only after this effort that one can see Alvarez Bravo’s photographs clearly; when the difficulty of his language is overcome, the work as a whole focuses into a belief, an attitude. It then becomes apparent why the photographer prefaced his own essay in the 1945 catalogue with a description from the Popol Vuh of that mythic first race of men who were destroyed by their makers because of their lack of purpose:

No tenían ni ingenio ni sabiduria, ningún recuerdo de sus Constructores, de sus Formadores … por eso decayeron. Solamente un ensayo, solamente una tentativa de humanidad. …

They had neither talent nor knowledge, not one remembrance of their Makers, their Formers … because of this they decayed. [They were] only an excuse, only an experiment in humanity.

M Alvarez Bravo, La de las Bellas Artes, (She of the Fine Arts), 1933




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