Unreal Nature

August 18, 2015

Beyond Ken or Kin

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… Modern thought and style are not only blinders but also powerful lenses.

This is from the essay ‘Contemporary Explorations’ by Kirk Varnedoe in “Primitivism” in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern edited by William Rubin (1984):

… As we said at the outset, work that has styled itself as postmodern has looked to anthropological models of tribal and prehistoric integration of art and society as curatives for the separation or alienation of art from its viewers and for the consequent undermining of art’s relevance and power. The desire behind many earthworks and site sculptures, as we analyzed it, was precisely to overcome this barrier, to involve a fuller range of the viewer’s experience, and to instill a sense of alignment that heightened awareness of place and moment. In conjunction with astral and earth orientations and references to menhirs or megalithic monuments, many of these works were intended further more to yield on a personal, self-dissolving level the sense of community with immemorial rhythms of natural order and human tradition.

DeMaria_lightningPoles01
Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1971-77

… Only in its least creative moments and only for the conventionally minded or uninformed can the twentieth-century fascination with the tribal be seen as a wholly negative — or wholly affirmative — response to modernity. It has been, as primitivist thought has always been, a dialogue of self-projection, discovery, and self-criticism, in which modern life provides both the need for alternatives and the means for uncovering and understanding them.

… The idea of primitivism as flight from civilization, or of Primitive art as a wholly “outsider” challenge, is an offshoot of the Romantic notion that true progress, true revolution, indeed truth in its most irreducible sense is only accessible when we step outside the enchaining confines of culture. Modern ideas of the mind and of the constraints of language suggest that this fantasy of escape is never to be realized. Yet this need not mean that the power of primitivism lies only in delusion, or that we are prisoners of conventions that bar us from contact with anything beyond our ken, or kin. Modern thought and style are not only blinders but also powerful lenses.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] The history of modernist primitivism and the character of its best recent examples speak directly to the point. This is a process of revolution that begins and ends in modern culture and because of that — not in spite of it — can continually expand and deepen our contact with that which is remote and different from us, and continually threaten, challenge, and reform our sense of self.

DeMaria_theLightningField_1977
Walter De Maria, The Lightning Field, 1971-77

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

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