Unreal Nature

March 31, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… “the steady shot brings us to another state.”

Continuing through Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action by Ira Jaffe (2014):

… A new long shot shows clouds darkening and drifting across the moon. Next, the closeup of Badii returns; but in the course of ninety seconds, the blackness of night, at first interrupted by renewed lightning, consumes his face, while silence displaces earlier sounds of thunder, birds and rain. Whether Badii is dead or alive, an almost voluptuous sensation of nothingness and stillness settles over the movie.


Suddenly, though, a military cheer is heard rising in the blackness. A splotchy, hand-held video image fades in, revealing roughly the same physical environment as before, but in day rather than night. … Taste of Cherry‘s twelve-shot coda begins by focusing on two members of the film crew, one of whom holds a film camera while the other walks towards him with a tripod. Then Ershadi, the actor who has portrayed Badii, casually brings [director] Kiarostami a lit cigarette, which the director starts to smoke.

Lisandro Alonso regards as reflexive his stationary camera’s lingering on spaces by major characters in Liverpool. Dennis and Joan West describe one such lingering (or instance of dead time): “Farrel leaves definitively the scene of his shipboard cabin; and then we are left for x number of seconds simply contemplating the setting.”

[line break added] Another instance occurs when Farrel, about to depart his mother’s village, leaves her home after Analia does, whereupon the camera lingers on the large entry room he has vacated for twenty-nine seconds. Alonso claims to include such pauses “in order to raise the question of what happens if after a given sequence, in which not very much has happened, we nevertheless give the spectator time to think about what it is that is happening …

[line break added] During that pause,” he adds, the spectator “comes to realize that cinematographic language exists — because he is made to feel the presence of the camera. And if the viewer feels the presence of the camera, he is also feeling the presence of the director.” Simultaneously, the viewer recognizes that “over and beyond what is happening to the fictional character, there is always someone else who is narrating the story.”

The effects of a camera rigidly observing a space in which little happens obviously intrigue not just Alonso but also Kiarostami, Oliveira and other slow-movie makers as well as their commentators. Jared Rapfogel cites the frequently “prolonged, unadorned, and steady gaze” of Oliveira’s camera,” while the elderly filmmaker himself remarks that “the steady shot brings us to another state.”

… Alfred Hitchcock often spoke of manipulating the viewer, of “processes through which we take the audience … to create this audience emotion.” But Kiarostami echoes the notion of the “open film” voiced by Gus Van Sant and other filmmakers reluctant to “take the audience” to fixed and predetermined destinations.

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




March 30, 2016

The Suggestion Inserted in the Faces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… What remains is the pure presence of the suggestion inserted in the faces, initiated by the play of light from the invisible source.

This is from Laszlo Glozer’s essay ‘In the reflection of the neon light: Jeff Wall’s Movie Audience revisited’ found in Jeff Wall: Transit (2010):

… The standard incompatibility between cinema audience and individual portrait is evident and by no means negated; it does, however, conjure the senses all the more, thematically and formally, in a totalistic “illusionism” that is thoroughly, meticulously stages and approaching perfection — without arriving at a really satisfying equilibrium. An irritation remains, effectively, and the decisive role here is played by the magical point (of focus) beyond the total installation.


Photographic material constitutes the medial core of such unerringly effective, irritating fakery. With this base material, the artist’s execution is certainly cogent. Seeing it on site, the original image — in Movie Audience, we’re dealing with seven individual photographs assembled together — is amplified to maximum photorealistic effect by means of the technical set-up of the transparency light box. It is almost superfluous to mention that we are dealing here with a model developed and optimized for advertising, one that would soon become a standard medium deployed globally. But its transfer into the arts sector — refined, and rendered specific — is precisely Jeff Wall’s stroke of genius.


It is above all this optical loudspeaker that lends the staged photographs the effect their exhibition deserves. This light, switched on, separates Wall’s works — usually through-composed like panel painting — from the traditional galleries, catapulting them from the wall and into the room, making them into a different kind of panel image insofar as the artificial mixture of light streaming out from the pictorial object psychophysically incorporates the observer into its illusion-creating sphere of influence.


[ … ]

… fortunately, the work stands for itself, even without its theory. If the calculation with the only ostensibly anonymous portraits doesn’t really add up to “the image of the mass as subject of history,” so much the better. What remains is the pure presence of the suggestion inserted in the faces, initiated by the play of light from the invisible source.

From elsewhere in the same book, this is Wall speaking in an interview:

… It’s important to keep in mind that what you do means nothing or less than nothing to most people, including those interested in art. Most people don’t think you’re any good, and that’s the case for the best artists.




March 29, 2016

A Necessary Screen

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… “The camera has also been … a necessary screen, a sort of reassuring filter …”

This is from Patterson Sims‘ title essay to Richard Estes’ Realism (2014):

… As he has repeatedly asserted, his art is not so much about what he paints as about how he paints. Estes considers that by using his photographs he neutralizes and sublimates his own point of view and allows his images to become more open-ended for the viewer. For him, “The subject is just the vehicle for doing the painting.”

Times Square, 2004

… As he memorably remarked in 1972, not long after the start of his now nearly half century of strictly photo-based realism, “I don’t enjoy looking at the things I paint, so why should you enjoy it? I enjoy painting because of all the things I can do with it. I’m not trying to make propaganda for New York, or anything. I think I would tear down most of the places I paint.”

Columbus Circle at Night, 2010

… “The camera has also been, for Estes,” as Sandro Parmiggiani has so cogently recognized, “a necessary screen, a sort of reassuring filter between his desire of knowing the world, the real, and his shyness, his still persisting restrained attitude … even the choice of reflections, and not a direct look, seems to be evidence of this.” As Estes more broadly remarked near the onset of his venture into photo-based realism, “Making a picture out of something is a way of putting oneself in control of it, like the cave-men and their pictures of wild animals. Did the capture of the animal’s form make his threat less acute? Maybe making a picture of your environment is a way of coping with it.”




March 28, 2016

Breath From Below

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… his path has been a continual rethinking, or rather, a pulsation between opposites that anchor the image to the earth.

Continuing through Michael Heizer by Germano Celant (1997):

… the megalithic design creates a change of mentality towards the construction of vital, energetic architectures, in a similar way to the sacred, spiritual buildings of antiquity, Chinese and Indian, Persian and Egyptian. “It is interesting to build a sculpture that attempts to create an atmosphere of awe. Small works are said to do this but this is not my experience.

[line break added] Immense, architecturally-sized sculpture creates both the object and the atmosphere. Awe is a state of mind equivalent to religious experience. I think if people feel commitment they feel something has been transcended. To create a transcendent work of art means to go past everything.”

… The installation of Double Negative is based on the fundamentals of archaic architectures, for it experiences nature as animated, permeated with an artistic spirit that makes it qualitatively different. It does not, however, distinguish itself from the sacred and ritual spaces, charged with numinous power, that have been built over the centuries.

[line break added] These magnetic architectures, centers of energy and spiritual action — such as the T’ai Shan in eastern China, the neolithic monuments of Aveburry, in Wiltshire, the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon at Teotihuacan, Mexico, the Great Serpent’s Mound in Adams County, Ohio, the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Thebes in Egypt, Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, Mexico, and the Pyramid of Zoser at Saqqara, Egypt — are familiar to Heizer, who has studied them carefully.

[line break added] He is aware, however, that their archaic mythology has nothing to offer to our epoch: “Who, in our time, wants processionals for spirits, sacrificial platforms, or ceremonial buildings? These functions are no longer meaningful, but are interesting for contemporary society if phrased in terms it can identify with.”

… Feeling the material and the sculpture means letting them speak, as though performing a work of excavation by virtue of which an element exists just long enough to be translated into something other than itself. The artist re-enacts creation, repeating the demiurgic gesture that gave life to the world as we know it. Taking cognizance of the laws of art, sculpture and painting means rediscovering their primordial creative power, the breath from below.

… Antithesis underlies all of Heizer’s research, and for this reason his path has been a continual rethinking, or rather, a pulsation between opposites that anchor the image to the earth. The prolonged attention he has given to gravity and ponderability, as crystallized in primary forms, has always sought expression outside a figural, mimetic image of reality.

[line break added] The volume, cut out or constructed with the idea of a negative or positive fullness, have always followed the metaphysical schema of a process of abstraction from the real. The emptiness and fullness never constitute a figure; they are always structural and geometrical.

Adjacent, Against, Upon, 1976; “The rocks in the sculpture … are not touched at all, they were just drilled and broken loose and brought in. They have their spirit, not mine.” — Michal Heizer

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




March 27, 2016

Hoops of Steel

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… the comfortably familiar becomes a prison of thought.

Continuing through Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould (1989):

… Without hesitation or ambiguity, and fully mindful of such paleontological wonders as large dinosaurs and African ape-men, I state that the invertebrates of the Burgess Shale, found high in the Canadian Rockies in Yoho National Park, on the eastern border of British Columbia, are the world’s most important animal fossils. Modern multicellular animals make their first uncontested appearance in the fossil record some 570 million years ago — and with a bang, not a protracted crescendo.

[line break added] This “Cambrian explosion” marks the advent (at least into direct evidence) of virtually all major groups of modern animals — and all within the minuscule span, geologically speaking, of a few million years. The Burgess Shale represents a period just after this explosion, a time when the full range of its products inhabited our seas. Those Canadian fossils are precious because they preserve in exquisite detail, down to the last filament of a trilobite’s gill, or the components of a last meal in a worm’s gut, the soft anatomy of organisms.

… The fauna was discovered in 1909 by America’s greatest paleontologist and scientific administrator, Charles Doolittle Walcott, secretary (their name for boss) of the Smithsonian Institution. Walcott proceeded to misinterpret these fossils in a comprehensive and thoroughly consistent manner arising directly from his conventional views of life … Walcott’s work was not consistently challenged for more than fifty years. In 1971, Professor Harry Whittington of Cambridge University published the first monograph in a comprehensive reexamination that began with Walcott’s assumptions and ended with a radical interpretation not only for the Burgess Shale, but by implication for the entire history of life, including our own evolution.

Harry Whittington and his colleagues have shown that most Burgess organisms do not belong to familiar groups, and that the creatures from this single quarry in British Columbia probably exceed, in anatomical range, the entire spectrum of invertebrate life in today’s oceans. Some fifteen to twenty Burgess species cannot be allied with any known group, and should probably be classified as separate phyla.

[line break added] Magnify some of them beyond the few centimeters of their actual size, and you are on the set of a science-fiction film; one particularly arresting creature has been formally names Hallucigenia. … Consider the magnitude of this difference: taxonomists have described almost a million species of arthropods, and all fit into four major groups; one quarry in British Columbia, representing the first explosion of multicellular life, reveals more than twenty additional arthropod designs!


[ … ]

… Familiarity has been breeding overtime in our mottoes, producing everything from contempt (according to Aesop) to children (as Mark Twain observed). Polonius, amidst his loquacious wanderings, urged Laertes to seek friends who were tried and true, and the, having chosen well, to “grapple them” to his “soul with hoops of steel.”

Yet, as Polonius’s eventual murderer stated in the most famous soliloquy of all time, “there’s the rub.” those hoops of steel are not easily unbound, and the comfortably familiar becomes a prison of thought.

My previous post from Gould’s book is here.




March 26, 2016

Nail Marks

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… because this needs to be told, you need to bear this knowledge from the past.

Final post from Chris Marker: La Jetée, by Janet Harbord (2009):

… At the edges of the story is a sense that both words and images are flimsy fabrications of time. At best, words and images sculpt time, craft it into shapes and frameworks, but these bear little relation to subjective experience. Language and images do not hold or contain this substance, but possibly they present a tentative consensus about how time will be displayed, performed and acted out.

In the narrator’s insistence on the ‘now’ of telling, there is, of course, a type of truth. Each time the film is shown, the time of telling is the present. But by the same token, the present is also moveable, a reiteration of a ‘now’ that can in fact be spoken at any time, and is delivered at every repeated exhibition of the work. In the gap between the time and the record of the time lies a wealth of speculation.

[ … ]

… Working with scriptwriter Jean Cayrol, Marker co-wrote the commentary for Resnais’s Night and Fog, a film that returns to Auschwitz ten years after the liberation. Mixing contemporary images with archive stills and footage, the narration articulates questions of memory as place. In its construction (the design detail of watch towers, the process of organizing the building works), we find that these very ‘mundane’ matters facilitate this most extraordinary event.

[line break added] Place is the retainer of traumatic memory if we know how to look. In one of the final images of the film the camera moves across the surface of a ceiling in a chamber. The narrator says this: ‘The only sign — but you have to know — is this ceiling, dug into by fingernails.’ The sentence hangs in the air in its ambiguity or its fullness of meaning — ‘you have to know’ inferring that you need to be told for the nail marks to become legible. And it signifies again: ‘mais il faut savoir,’ because this needs to be told, you need to bear this knowledge from the past.

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




March 25, 2016

To the Earth’s Dreaming

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I will remember that night, when I turned back on leaving.

This is from the essay ‘The Coconut Palm’ found in Knowing the East by Paul Claudel; translated by James Lawler (1900; 2004):

… In the warm day and long noon the tree in ecstasy parts its fronds and, at the points where they separate and diverge, there appear the great green heads of fruit like children’s skulls. In this way it makes the gesture of showing its heart. for it reveals itself wholly, and the lower leaves hang down, and the middle ones spread as far as they can to each side, and those above, raised aloft, slowly make a sign as of a man who knows not what to do with his hands or signals his surrender. The trunk is not rigid but ringed, and supple, and long like a blade of grass; it sways to the earth’s dreaming, whether it rises directly toward the sun or bends its tuft above swift loamy rivers, or over sea and sky.


At night, as I returned along the beach foaming with the thunderous leonine mass of the Indian Ocean driven by the southwesterly monsoon, and followed the shore strewn with fronds like the skeleton wrecks of boats and beasts, I saw on my left, through the empty forest and beneath an opaque ceiling, the image of enormous spiders climbing obliquely across the twilight sky. Venus, like a moon bathing in the purest rays, cast a broad reflection on the waters. And a coconut palm, bent over sea and planet like a being overcome with love, made the sign of bringing its heart to the heavenly fire.

I will remember that night, when I turned back on leaving. I saw heavy tresses hanging down and, across the huge peristyle of the forest, the sky where the storm set its feet on the sea and rose up like a mountain, and the pale ocean level with the earth.




March 24, 2016

Denying the Spectator Easy Entry

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… The spectator will truly see the film, claims Costa, only “when the film doesn’t let him enter, when there’s a door that says to him: ‘Don’t come in’ …

Continuing through Slow Movies: Countering the Cinema of Action by Ira Jaffe (2014):

Alonso … embraces what Van Sant … has called the “open film”: a film of deliberately indeterminate meaning that invites multiple interpretations from diverse spectators who thus contribute to “the creation,” as Sokurov would say, of the films’ artistic world. The open film, moreover, not only resists offering the spectator unequivocal information, perhaps what Sokurov terms “the overly sharp quality of screen reality,” but also rejects what Van Sant calls Hollywood busyness, the plethora of fast-paced action and scene changes typical of commercial cinema.

Alonso acknowledges that his refusal to guide viewers may encourage them to wander — or to “leave” the film; and rather than expect them to stay riveted, he endorses their straying: “the spectator can be looking at something, he or she can think about it, and can even ‘leave’ the film and then come back into it.”


[ … ]

… While both mainstream and art films often invite spectators to identify with movie characters and to enter into, as Wall says, the consciousness and personality of these characters, slow movies generally discourage such intimacy. Costa gives his particular reasons for denying the spectator easy entry or an open door: “I believe that today, in the cinema, when we open a door, it’s always quite false, because it says to the spectator: ‘Enter this film and you’re going to be fine, you’re going to have a good time,’ and finally what you see in this genre of film is nothing other than yourself, a projection of yourself.”

[line break added] Costa seeks to block such projections and good times, even if doing so makes the spectator “uncomfortable” and turns him or her “against the film.” The spectator will truly see the film, claims Costa, only “when the film doesn’t let him enter, when there’s a door that says to him: ‘Don’t come in.’ That’s when he can enter. The spectator can see a film if something on the screen resists him.”

Alonso also invokes an earlier era as he accounts for his resistance to the spoken word, which perhaps exceeds Costa’s: “I just don’t have any confidence in words. I do have confidence in what I see,” states the director of Liverpool. “Previously in the history of cinema image was everything, or about everything. So I don’t believe that I need to have recourse to words in order to explain how my characters feel.”

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




March 23, 2016

Made from Mistakes

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

… Beauty is not something that comes towards us from a future in which the imperfections of the present will have been made good, but rather comprises a more accepting, even loving attitude towards the fleeting moment …

This is from the Introduction to Jeff Wall: Works and Collected Writings by Michael Newman:

… The slowing of the image in the large-scale constructed photograph [such as Wall’s] implies a way of “reading” it. When places in sequence, snapshots evoke narrative, and this was the way they were typically used in photojournalism. A reading of the photograph in relation to sequential time — photo as chronicle — may be contrasted with one based on the spatial simultaneity or composition of elements within the image.

[ … ]

… recently … Wall has rejected the utopian as a repudiation of the imperfection of the present:

The Utopian aggression against the actual, against the slow and the imperfect — I see that as a rhetoric, as one of the last formations of the avant-garde. Democracy involves imperfection. The fundamental aesthetic trait of democratic culture is the taste for imperfection. It has to do with accepting its presence and knowing that everything you do won’t be realized exactly as you want it to be, and that other people will also have something to say about it. That spirit of imperfection realizes that the past was made from mistakes that we now find interesting, as interesting as “getting it right” might have been, maybe more interesting.

The grimy here-and-now has found its way into a number of his pictures since the 1990s in the form of representations of dirt and desuetude, and a focus on ordinary, everyday subjects. Clearly Wall still tries to make beautiful pictures, but the implications of beauty are no longer the same. Beauty is not something that comes towards us from a future in which the imperfections of the present will have been made good, but rather comprises a more accepting, even loving attitude towards the fleeting moment of a contingent present remembered, reconstructed, and held in a photograph.

… If photography is to be taken as a medium rather than a means to produce pictures, as is generally the case in Wall’s earlier work, what conception of medium might we be able to infer from the work itself? I will argue that Wall’s conception of photography as medium needs to be understood in the following ways: in relation to a crisis in the transmission of experience in modernity; in relation to the abandonment of the “expressive” model of the picture with its distinction between appearance and essence; and in relation to an emphasis on the ordinary.




March 22, 2016

Where Does the Art Lie?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… along with a dispassionate objectivity, there is also an intense sincerity.

This is from Linda Chase’s essay ‘The Not-So-Innocent Eye: Photorealism in Context’ found in Photorealism at the Millennium by Louis K. Meisel with Linda Chase (2002):

… The underlying assumption of representational painting has been that the value of an image lies not in the thing itself but in the artist’s relationship to it. “What a painter inquires into,” Gombrich wrote in Art and Illusion, “is not the nature of the physical world, but the nature of our reaction to it.” The Photorealist is instead speaking to the nature of our visual and cultural perceptions of the world. But the very act of choosing a particular image to photograph and then paint is in itself a very telling response, an affirmation of both the thing itself and the artist’s relationship, however objective, to it.

… The mechanical nature of the camera enables them to achieve the impartiality they seek while at the same time imparting a compelling sense of immediacy. One of the many ironies of Photorealism is that the artists seek a directness in relation to the visually experienced world through the use of secondary source material, and that they achieve a heightened sense of reality by reproducing an illusion of an illusion.

John Salt, Catskill Cadillac, 1999

…It would seem that there is no longer any subject matter that would be considered unacceptable in art today, yet these paintings retain their ability to startle our sensibilities and rivet our attention. There are several factors at work here. One is certainly the masterful technique and the perfection of the rendering — the skill these artists display in creating a breathtaking semblance of reality.

[line break added] The ‘gee whiz’ factor, what Goings refers to as “hot dog painting.” Another is the slightly disconcerting combination of photographic and lifelike verisimilitude — the way these works look so real and so photographic at once. But ultimately it is the ability these artists have to reveal the fascinating in the familiar that compels us.

Where does the art lie? It lies in the artist’s mind and eye and hand.

… As we have seen, there are many ironies involved in the Photorealist’s use of the photograph: the fact that the painting when photographed resembles a photograph, the fact that the photographic look lends a documentary credibility even in an age of computer-altered photography, when we know that the camera can and often does lie; the fact that while the snapshot quality lends verisimilitude, the heightened hyperreal quality of the Photorealist painting seems more “real” than the photo. Nevertheless, the stance of the Photorealist painter is decidedly unironic, for along with a dispassionate objectivity, there is also an intense sincerity.

Photorealist paintings proclaim unequivocally the value of clear-eyed observation, of sustained effort, and above all of the act of painting itself. Revealing hidden beauty in even the most mundane aspects of the world around us, they open our eyes to wonder. Far from purveying cheap thrills for the masses in sleight-of-hand tricks (accusations hurled by disgruntled critics in the early years), the best of Photorealist paintings provide us with awe-inspiring beauty and cunning perceptions about our culture and our time.




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