Unreal Nature

June 30, 2016

It Is Not a Consistent Fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… Haunted by levels of fiction without a clearly marked escape, the work presents this experience as ambivalently pleasurable and nightmarish at one and the same time.

This is from the essay ‘Siting Cinema’ by Andrew V. Uroskie, found in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader edited by Tanya Leighton (2008):

… Climbing the steps, we find headphones on the seats awaiting us. Placing them over our ears, the exterior sounds of the gallery are quickly muffled, and our immediate aural environment is swallowed up in the projected static of white noise. The doors to the outside close, and darkness follows. Simultaneously relaxed by the seating and made anxious by the claustrophobic enclosure (how can we leave if we need to get out?), we wait for something to begin.

[line break added] But just as the noise of our fellow audience members falls away, sounds and conversations begin anew. Over to the left and just behind us on the right, people are talking again. Cardiff and Miller recorded the audio component of the piece using binaural technology, which gives a powerful illusion of spatial presence to the sound we hear. Thus, while aurally isolated from the real people around us, we continue to overhear the conversations of people who seem to surround us.

[line break added] There is a sense of uncanny doubling as real and recorded sounds overlap and coalesce. We hear people rustling in their seats, taking off items of clothing and whispering to one another — all preparing for the main attraction. A mobile phone goes off and a woman quickly tells her caller that she has to go — ‘she’s in a movie.’ Occurring in eerily precise stereo-sound and seemingly at discrete spatial locations, this all seems quite realistic. Yet this is not to say that it is taken for reality.

[line break added] Even the binaural recordings cannot perfectly evoke the manifold sensory experience of a real phenomenal environment, and spectators quickly recognize that they are listening to an illusion. Yet far from ruining the work, the spectator’s double-consciousness — his or her simultaneous experience of real and recorded sounds and continued ability to distinguish between them — will prove fundamental to the experience the work seeks to generate.


[ … ]

… Within The Paradise Institute, we struggle not to separate fact from fiction so much as to establish a firm locus for that fiction to take place. We never confuse fact and fiction, because we always understand that we are being presented with a fiction. But it is not a consistent fiction. It is fractured, multiple, existing in too many places at once.

[line break added] As we lose track of the boundary or frame where the diegetic world starts and stops, our phenomenological sense of wholeness and interiority gives way to a kind of paranoia. It seems no accident that the work begins with the admonition that spectators will not be able to leave the theater once the performance has begun. Unlike traditional theaters, The Paradise Institute contains no brightly glowing exit sign reassuring us that (in a physical or psychological emergency) the space of the fiction can be quickly and definitively left behind.

[line break added] The word ‘paradise’ stems from the Ancient Persian for ‘walled-off space,’ and The Paradise Institute stages what is ultimately a crisis of boundaries for its spectator. We are allowed to exist neither inside nor outside of the spectacle. This liminal staging of subjectivity is one that is familiar in psychoanalytic theory, wherein the inner space of the psyche and the outer space of the world can no longer be definitively separated as in classical philosophy, but come to form an overlapping or chiasmatic structure.

[line break added] The Paradise Institute — which in its very name conflates fantasy with containment, ancient myth with modern medicalisation — confronts the cultural locus of the spectacular with a markedly different economy of spectatorship. Haunted by levels of fiction without a clearly marked escape, the work presents this experience as ambivalently pleasurable and nightmarish at one and the same time.

My most recent previous post from this book is  here.




June 29, 2016

User-friendly Pap

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… photography inherited some of that portion of the American art audience too intellectually torpid to understand …

This is from the essay ‘American Photography in the 1970s: Too Old to Rock, Too Young to Die’ (1985) found in Lewis Baltz Texts (2012):

… the 1970s witnessed an intensity of photographic activity in America unequalled since the 1930s, and an acceptance of photography as a major medium of expression unparalleled in our history. Photography was one of the brighter spots in that otherwise bleak decade.

… Many of the reasons for photography’s art-world ascendance were shameful, or irrelevant. As the acerbic H.L. Mencken observed fifty years ago, no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. Mencken’s spiritual descendant, Tom Wolfe, further noted in his broadside, The Painted Word, that the American art audience, even at its most sophisticated levels, hankers deep down for imagistic art; if possible, figurative art, an art with recognizable forms and an anecdotal degree. Most photographs automatically satisfy this in some degree.

[line break added] While abstraction held the high ground in American painting and sculpture since 1945, it has remained, for a number of reasons, only a factional style in American photography. Critics, most of whom if trained at all are trained as writers, also prefer artwork that yields up to literary interpretations. It is, after all, easier to write about a Diego Rivera painting, or a Cartier-Bresson photograph, than it is to confront the obdurate materiality of, for instance a Carl Andre sculpture.

Thus photography inherited some of that portion of the American art audience too intellectually torpid to understand much less take interest in, the kinds of issues raised by the best American art of the 1960s. Photography appeared more easily accessible. Which it is, though only superficially. The fact that the most intelligent photographic works hold a range of problematic issues as demanding as those raised by any other art of major ambition, either came as a rude shock to this segment of photography’s public, or else was overlooked by it altogether.

… One of the hopes for photography in the 1970s was that it would attract the critical attention of leading writers and thinkers outside the photographic community. … However, almost without exception they failed to come to terms with photography in any but the most superficial way.

… The most egregious example was Susan Sontag’s On Photography … There is little doubt that On Photography, with its unsupported assertions, poorly reasoned arguments, and internal contradiction, is not Sontag’s finest work. Nevertheless the book became the nearest thing to a bestseller that photographic criticism had yet enjoyed, and most right-thinking American readers believed that they could learn everything necessary about photography, both as a cultural artefact and as a form of aberrant behavior, in the pages of this simplistic book.

… During the 1950s and 60s ‘concerned’ photography was perceived, at least by its makers, as form of activism. By the 1970s it became clear to more thoughtful photographers that it was, in truth, the antithesis of effective social involvement: a form of elitist play-acting, morally satisfying to the player, but without serious political or social consequence.

[line break added] If one wished to influence social or political issues, then images were no substitute for direct political struggle. Photography’s value lies elsewhere: in describing the surfaces of the phenomenal world in a manner unique to itself; hoping, at best, to contribute a precise, if necessarily limited, understanding of the objects and events in front of the lens, and some insight into the mind behind it.

[ … ]

… During the latter half of the 1970s American photography was overshadowed by one pervasive pseudo-issue. The Rush to Color, which blurred many of the existing lines demarcating areas of photographic practice and, in the end, cast a treacly pall over the entire enterprise.

… Despite radical differences in style, technique, and temperament, Eggleston and Shore shared a commitment to the use of color as a descriptive, as opposed to decorative, element in their photographs. They were among the last to do so and by the end of the decade it seemed as though their work, almost solely, redeemed the entire shallow, dismal affair that was America’s flirtation with photographic color.

The dominant, or at least prevalent, body of color photographs that one saw at the shank of the seventies was vapid, overscaled, coffee-table art, the end-product of photography’s first demand/supply style of photography: Soft Contemporary, user-friendly pap devoid of any content save color and any ideology save prettiness. … Photography had made its blood sacrifice to the twin altars of interior decoration and corporate collecting, and in so doing strained the credulity of its audience, perhaps the most credulous on earth.

… Having survived for so long in obscurity and privation, could the corpus of American photography endure success, even popularity, as well? The answer, from the perspective of the mid-1980s is yes, after a fashion. If our present decade seems less favorable to the enterprise of photography generally, it seems significantly more favorable to certain photography. This decade has proved more discriminating than the last: it could hardly be otherwise.




June 28, 2016

Weaning Himself from His Own Taste

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… “the dilemma that I found myself in … is enjoying making art but not liking what I made.”

This is from Chuck Close by Robert Storr (1998):

… [A] sympathetically intended simplification of Close’s art consists of an excessive attention to issues of facture. In part this results from the layperson’s understandable fascination with the “tricks” of the artistic conjuror’s trade. The more nearly an image seems to replicate “nature” the more insistently people want to know the gimmick behind it. Professionals have their own curiosity about these matters. Close himself has asked whether or not at “a convention of magicians, the magicians see the illusion or the device” responsible for it.

[line break added] He has effectively answered his own question as well — and in so doing encouraged the focus on technique — by discussing at length the possibilities made available to him by new media or by old but hitherto untried studio methods such as mezzotint. His enthusiasm is contagious, but too often prompts a largely procedural or descriptive treatment of the work.

Chuck Close, Big Self-Portrait, 1967-68

[ … ]

… “The first-generation abstract expressionists suffered and after that it was a system. We painted out of a system. We didn’t have tortured, anguished, alcoholic people. We were art students, for Christ’s sake.” The issue was more fundamental than lifestyle, however. “I admired painters like Rothko, Pollock and Kline,” Close once acknowledged. “But they nailed it down so well that I couldn’t do anything but impersonations of their work. … All my heroes were dead, and my work was incredibly eclectic.”

… “I could make any kind of art marks you wanted. … Once you know what art looks like it’s not hard to make some of it. … And the dilemma that I found myself in after having gotten out of graduate school is enjoying making art but not liking what I made.”

A tug-of-war between authenticity of feeling while making a work and convincing form in the finished product had bedeviled artists since the myth of Pollock and de Kooning forging primordial images out of inchoate psychic matter and raw studio materials had first been propagated in the 1950s. It hardly mattered that this account misconstrued their methods, particularly those of de Kooning, who was, in his fashion, the most deliberate of artists.

[line break added] This fact notwithstanding, mystification of the creative act was steadily undermining the practical and imaginative freedoms Abstract Expressionism had won. Simultaneously, as Close had stated frankly, their aesthetic had become a “system” out of which others painted with ever greater familiarity and decreasing vitality.

… Taste, in the sense of informed discrimination and delectation, is a largely conservative attribute. When strongly possessed, not just strongly proclaimed, it is usually rooted in the frequent and exacting study of original works. In practice it is a mix of instinct, appetite, connoisseurship, and the ability to extrapolate from one class of things to another closely or remotely related one. Universal taste — that is, the ability to determine the best among objects of widely disparate traditions — is extremely rare, if not entirely hypothetical.

[line break added] More to the point, taste is seldom the most reliable indicator of the potential in new ideas — except if you admit the possibility of “taste” in generative concepts — especially insofar as the first statement of those ideas may intentionally defy prevailing conventions or may simply be so awkward as to be easily belittled or ignored.

Weaning himself from his own taste for painterly painting and the immediate pleasure he took in making it constituted Close’s declaration of independence. As LeWitt stipulated in his 1969 “Sentences of Conceptual Art,” “Banal ideas cannot be rescued by beautiful execution.” LeWitt postulated other axioms that help explain the direction Close was then taking. “Successful art changes our understanding of the conventions by altering our perceptions,” LeWitt wrote.

To be continued.




June 27, 2016

Inside and Outside

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… “I can be proud. Am I?”

This is from Eva Hesse by Lucy Lippard (1976):

… My first impression of Eva was that of a beautiful, fashionable, but spoiled little girl. She was in a state of total anxiety due to the living conditions (nor recommended for a compulsive housekeeper), to tensions within the marriage, and certainly to her own work, although at the time I too considered her “Tom’s wife” rather than a serious artist. Her drawings were beautiful but not unique, and her paintings were much too murky for my tastes; her personal manner contradicted the strength and depth I perceived only later. [1963]

[ … ]

Eva Hesse, Hang Up, 1966

“I would like the work to be non-work. This means that it would find its way beyond my preconceptions.
What I want of my art I can eventually find. The work must go beyond this.
It is my main concern to go beyond what I know and what I can know.
The formal principles are understandable and understood.
It is the unknown quantity from which and where I want to go.
As a thing, an object, it accedes to its non-logical self.
It is something, it is nothing.” — Eva Hesse, 1968

… “No one knew what condition I’d be in after the operation [for a brain tumor in 1969]. There were so many possibilities. Also in terms of my personality — and my psyche. To myself I seem pretty much the same (not depressed or anxious). I look at the past 3½ years with a kind of amazement. All that has come to pass. My changes. Inside and outside. I can be proud. Am I? And certainly I can live alone and be within myself.”

One of her first thoughts was that she didn’t have to be an artist to justify her existence. “I could live without it. … ”

… Nevertheless, Hesse’s art was the most important thing she had, and after the operation, however little she admitted it to herself, she knew that if she was going to realize her capacity for making great art, she had to do it right now. She completed six more major pieces and many drawings before she died, overcoming obstacles that would have demolished most people. In a curious way, Hesse gained strength from her predicament.

[line break added] The possibility of death had broken down certain barriers life had always imposed on her. Gioia Timpanelli, who had met her only in late 1968, could barely believe Hesse’s accounts of her own weakness, anxiety, and dependence in the past. She found her immensely strong and clearheaded, as though “this was the first time she was really living on all levels.”

… Unfortunately, by the time the Guggenheim Museum’s exhibition of Hesse’s opened in December 1972, she had become a stereotype, or myth, the art world’s answer to Sylvia Plath and Diane Arbus. That she did not commit suicide and had, on the contrary, an immensely strong will to live and to work, was ignored.

… While a few voices were raised in protest or serious criticism against further exploitation of a major artist, they were drowned out by articles like Joyce Purnick’s in the New York Post (December 13, 1972), subtitled “Tortured and Talented” … [and] Douglas Davis’ sexist “Cockroach or Queen” piece in Newsweek (January 15, 1973) which called the sculpture “dainty” and “safe,” ending patronizingly: “What is tragic about her early death is not the loss of a great artist. It is the loss of an intensely human person, cut off before finding — and completing herself.”

[line break added] After all this soap opera, one had to agree with Kasha Linville Gula that “the American public finds it necessary to turn its great women artists into tragic figures and then to forget about their work — as if their deaths, with the emphasis on suicide, somehow explain their artistic output. … By implication, any woman who carries her art to heights that subordinate her personal life is bound to die tragically, probably by her own hand. It’s a punishing sort of recognition, carrying with it the suggestion that without super-suffering the art couldn’t have happened; that no woman artist can be truly great in a public sense unless she has so mucked up her personal life that she can’t possibly be getting any satisfaction out of it.”

Eva Hesse, Right After, 1969


… She compared her love of absurdity to Waiting for Godot, “where the main thing is waiting. They go on waiting and pushing and they keep saying it and doing nothing. And it really is a key to understanding me. Only a few understand that my humor comes from there, my whole approach.”

… I was charged by one friend of Hesse’s to extricate her in this book from the “mere role of synthesizer — the traditional female role,” as he put it. The fact remains that Hesse was a pivotal figure and a synthesizer, as have been most great loners. She took exactly what she needed from the art around her, transformed it, and gave it back to the art world.

[line break added] The art around her tended to be pushed “forward” by avant-garde necessity, and, being a woman of her time, Hesse was not free of that necessity. But she was free to take contradictory elements and simply use them as vehicles for her own content ahead of her own time, rather than to continue or even initiate a specific “new trend.” “I don’t know if you can be completely out of the tradition, but I don’t think I’m conservative,” she told Nemser.

[line break added] “I know art history. I know what I believe in. I know where I come from or relate to or the work that I have looked at and am convinced by, but I feel so strongly that the only art is the art of the artist personally and found out as much as possible for himself and by himself. I don’t mind being miles from everybody else. I think the best artists are those who have stood alone and who can be separated from what movements that have been made about them.”




June 26, 2016

The Street Is a Room

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… the graffiti writer argues for … the appropriation of the street by those who primarily inhabit it.

This is from ‘Ceci Tuera Cela: Graffiti as Crime and Art’ in Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation by Susan Stewart (1994; 1991):

… This community [or graffiti writers] is structured by an explicit hierarchy: beginners (called “toys”) work with master writers as apprentices. The toy generally progresses from writing simple “tags” on any surface to writing “throw-ups” (larger tags thrown onto inaccessible surfaces or the outsides of subway cars) to writing “pieces” (short for masterpieces: symbolic and/or figurative works such as landscapes, objects, letters, or characters drawn on a variety of surfaces).

Given this social background to the practice of graffiti, the function of graffiti appears repeatedly, nevertheless, in the native scheme of things as a matter of individuation. One of the principle rules of the graffiti writer’s code of ethics is that a writer cannot copy, or “bite,” either the tag or the style of another writer without instigating a cross-out war or, more directly, a first-person fight. The reputation of the writer depends upon the recognizability of his or her style, but even more importantly upon his or her facility for “getting up,” for making one’s mark as frequently and extensively as possible.

… Writers will often make evaluative comments part of their “pieces,” leaving a history of the constraints on their work: “Sorry about the drips,” “It’s cold,” “Cheap paint,” “Too late. Too tired.” Graffiti writers plan larger pieces,and practice smaller ones, in sketchbooks called “black books” or “piece books,” and the execution of a large piece depends upon “racking up” or “inventing” — that is, stealing — sometimes hundreds of cans of spray paint and hundreds of markers before a piece can be begun.

… the head of the police gang-control unit in Los Angeles declares that “graffiti decreases property value, and signed buildings on block after block convey the impression that the city government has lost control, that the neighborhood is … sliding toward anarchy.” [in 1982]

This is graffiti as nonculture. Linked to the dirty, the animal, the uncivilized, and the profane, contemporary urban graffiti signify an interruption of the boundaries of public and private space, an eruption of creativity and movement outside and through the claims of street, façade, exterior, and interior by which the city is articulated. Graffiti make claims upon materiality, refusing to accept the air as the only free or ambiguously defined space. The practice of graffiti emphasizes the free commercial quality of urban spaces in general, a quality in contrast to the actual paucity of available private space.

… We may extend Louis Kahn’s contention that “the street is a room by agreement” to include the street as playground, ball field, and billboard by agreement — or by conflict, subterfuge, and the exercise of power and privilege.

… Graffiti writers often argue that it is ethical to write on spaces that have been abandoned or poorly maintained; it is considered a sign of amateurism, however, to write on churches, private homes and automobiles, and other clearly “private” property. Writers sometimes extend this argument to a complaint about the “emptiness” or lack of signification characteristic, in their opinion, of public and corporate architecture overall.

[line break added] To these buildings characterized by height and anonymity, the graffiti writer attaches the personal name written by hand on a scale perceptible to the individual viewer. In this sense, the graffiti writer argues for the personalization of wall writing and for the appropriation of the street by those who primarily inhabit it.

… It is not so much that graffiti are, after all, a public art; rather, graffiti point to the paradox of a public space and face, presentation and display, by which surface, space, and the frontal view are gestures of respectability and respect toward a generalized order for its own sake.

… they form a critique of the status of all artistic artifacts, indeed a critique of all privatized consumption, and carry out that threat in full view, in repetition, so that the public has nowhere to look, no place to locate an averted glance.

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




June 25, 2016

The Loss of Paradise

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… A strange continuity is marked by a border which is at once a barrier and a portal.

This is from the essay ‘Mapping Eden: Cartographies of the Earthly Paradise’ by Alessandro Scafi found in Mappings edited by Denis Cosgrove (1999):

… While generations of theologians spilt rivers of ink in their attempts to penetrate the mystery of a Paradise on earth, the map-makers translated theological monochrome into the spectrum of their own visual language. As an exercise of translation, however — from abstract to concrete, from ears to eyes — a map could clarify what was difficult to grasp from the text alone. Visual imagery offered perhaps direct experience of a place and a condition which had always been described as indescribable.

… The critical point in mapping the spatial and temporal border between Eden and geographical space was the paradox of the relationship between God and nature. Any barrier separating earth from Paradise had to be understood as both division and connection.

… we must recognize that the Garden of Eden was a place for Creator and creature together, a place fit for humans in communion with God, and that the entire world this side of the Edenic border is also God’s property. A strange continuity is marked by a border which is at once a barrier and a portal.

The Ebstorf Map

… The mappamundi, designed to accommodate space and time within a sort of ‘relativistic’ framework, offered the perfect answer to the cartographic paradox of showing Paradise on a map of the world. On a mappamundi, all measurements involving space and time lose their absolute significance, and the world of everyday life is transcended in a vision of a multi-dimensional reality.

… The [subsequent] development of a systematic system of coordinates [in the Renaissance] legitimized the inclusion of maps on cosynchronous features only. Space itself became homogeneous, ordered by a geometrical grid; no one point in the map was more important than any other. Cartography would henceforth be concerned only with quantity, based exclusively on measurement.

With quantification, and by asserting the concept of an absolute space, mapping from 1500 certainly gained increasing precision over the whole span of time as well as the whole of earthly space. The price, however, was the loss of the timeless vision offered by the medieval mappamundi; mapping’s horizon was reduced to three-dimensional Euclidean space and limited to our ordinary experience of the physical world.

[line break added] On such maps there was no room for illustrating religious mysteries which would increasingly be seen as mere decoration. On a map ruled by measurable coordinates and which treated the universe as transfixed at a certain moment, there was no room for the ahistorical reality of an Earthly Paradise, lacking a precise, ‘scientific’ location.

The loss of Paradise from world maps was no insignificant cartographic omission. It represents a major shift in thought as well as in mapping. The space-time vision of medieval times was broken. And change in the way Paradise was represented by cartographers coincided also with a crucial turning point in theological history. While a few scholastic theologians maintained the view that Paradise still existed on earth, the majority of exegetes came to agree that Paradise had disappeared from the face of the world at the time of the Flood.

… Thus, the mysterious region was distanced to the beginning of time. This change, from Paradise present to Paradise past, is itself mirrored in maps. Once the notion of a geography inextricably linked to the whole space-time structure was lost, together with the multi-dimensional mapping of the Christian Middle Ages, the Earthly Paradise was retained only on explicitly historical regional maps.




June 24, 2016

A Delicacy of Means

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… Geometric figures lose their weight and use their newly discovered lightness to become affectionate memories of a modernism already passed into history.

This is from Mary Heilmann: Save the Last Dance for Me, by Terry R. Myers (2007):

… “Each of my paintings can be seen as an autobiographical marker, a cue, by which I evoke a moment from my past, or my projected future, each a charm to conjure a mental reality and to give it physical form.” Two things stand out from this statement. From the beginning, by choosing to use the word ‘can,’ Heilmann makes it clear that she does not require, or even want to ask, that her paintings be seen in this light. More importantly, by including the possibility of a ‘projected future’ in the mix, Heilmann lets us in on the not-so-hidden secret behind the most pleasurable aspect of her art: you can make it up, but not out of the ‘whole cloth’ of an absolute lie.

Mary Heilmann, Save the Last Dance for Me, 1979

[ … ]

“She uses a delicacy of means to alienate the modernist programme and thereby analyses it at the same time — a tactic that makes her one of the most explicit representatives of new, postmodern painting. A small gesture, a visible brushstroke or some drops of paint in places where our normal historically distinctive perception would not permit it, create a great distance to modernism. Such alterations seem to let the air escape from an overblown, self-assured attitude. Geometric figures lose their weight and use their newly discovered lightness to become affectionate memories of a modernism already passed into history.” [Martin Prinzhorn]

My previous post from Myers’s book is here.




June 23, 2016

Being Stronger than the Fact in Front of You

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… every act of creation is also an act of resistance.

This is from the essay ‘Difference and Repetition: On Guy Debord’s Films’ by Giorgio Agamben, found in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader edited by Tanya Leighton (2008):

… let’s return to cinema’s conditions of possibility, repetition and stoppage. There are four great thinkers of repetition in modernity: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Gilles Deleuze. All four have shown us that repetition is not the return of the identical; it is not the same as such that returns. The force and the grace of repetition, the novelty it brings us, is the return as the possibility of what was.

[line break added] Repetition restores the possibility of what was, renders it possible anew; it’s almost a paradox. To repeat something is to make it possible anew. Here lies the proximity of repetition and memory. Memory cannot give us back what was, as such: that would be hell. Instead, memory restores possibility to the past. This is the meaning of the theological experience that Benjamin saw in memory, when he said that memory makes the unfulfilled into the fulfilled, and the fulfilled into the unfulfilled.

[line break added] Memory is, so to speak, the organ of reality’s modalisation; it is that which can transform the real into the possible and the possible into the real. If you think about it, that’s also the definition of cinema. Doesn’t cinema always do just that, transform the real into the possible and the possible into the real? One can define the already-seen as the fact of perceiving something present as though it had already been, and its converse as the fact of perceiving something that has already been as present.

[line break added] Cinema takes place in this zone of indifference. We then understand why work with images can have such a historical and messianic importance, because they are a way of projecting power and possibility toward that which is impossible by definition, toward the past. Thus cinema does the opposite of the media.

[line break added] What is always given in the media is the fact, what was, without its possibility, its power: we are given a fact before which we are powerless. The media prefer a citizen who is indignant, but powerless. That’s exactly the goal of the TV news. It’s the bad form of memory, the kind of memory that produces the man of ressentiment.

[ … ]

Deleuze once said of cinema that every act of creation is also an act of resistance. What does it mean to resist? Above all it means decreating what exists, de-creating the real, being stronger than the fact in front of you. Every act of creation is also an act of thought, and an act of thought is a creative act, because it is defined above all by its capacity to de-create the real.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




June 22, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… Abstract photographs may record or register but do not testify or bear witness except to their own presentness … They are not free but they are unburdened.

Final post from The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography by Lyle Rexer (2009):

… What was the orthodoxy and what the apostasy? Against whom did the early prophets of this period grumble, like William Blake against Johann Lavater, “There is no natural religion!” The church of photography resided in a place — New York City — and a group of institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In fact, MoMA organized some groundbreaking exhibitions of unorthodox work, including its foray into abstraction, but the “church” nevertheless professed a broadly documentary catechism for photography.

[line break added] The trinity of camera-photographer-world was never blasphemed — no trick photography, no deliberate distortions, no violating the negative, no scrawled narratives to prop up the pictures — and the contract between representation and expression, always under negotiation in photography, was never to be broken.

… The inaugural moment of contemporary photographic-inflected fine art is probably Robert Rauschenberg’s “combine” paintings from the 1950s and early ’60s, works that imported photography and other material into the realm of painting. The impact of this importation on painting is well documented. It forms part of the catechism of Pop art, from Any Warhol and David Hockney to Claes Oldenburg. But the impact on photography was even more profound.

[line break added] For decades, modern photographers had asserted the aesthetic status of the medium and attempted to define it more rigorously as a union of expression and denotative elements. In Rauschenberg’s work, as in Warhol’s, photography was demoted to the status of a readymade, reduced to an anonymous common denominator, just one form of information among others, deprived of the conventional marks of style or individual subjectivity.

[ … ]

… Far from being the terminus ad quem of photography, abstract images represent its apotheosis. The guarantee of a photograph is not its image, its representation, so easily conflated with its subject; it is its surface, its utter two-dimensionality, a kind of limiting condition containing the promise of whatever it is we get from a photograph, of a photographic experience. … The abstract photograph signifies not the given but the possible. And in an image-choked world, perhaps it signifies a necessary antidote for a growing numbness, an image-blindness.

… The suspension of signifiers and the withdrawal of subjects foregrounds photography’s primary claim on our imaginative lives today, not as politics but as poetry. No image, no matter how contrived, can expose the content of an obscure contemporary reality without extensive commentary. But photographs can do something that may be even more valuable. They can mediate a poetic response to the world, a response that acknowledges the real beyond mere instrumentality.

[line break added] A few artists are attempting to reintegrate the seemingly opposed senses of photography — the transcriptive and metaphoric — to come out the other side of abstraction. they seek to display the constant interplay in all images of what is disclosed and what is withheld, what can be shown and what can only be imagined.

… The most conventional of photographs lead double lives, functioning one way at their creation (and for some unspecified length of time while they remain aides-mémoires) and another when they are fully untethered from their originating worlds. Pointing at first toward a future in which they will keep some image of a thing, situation, or person alive, they necessarily become emblems of death, pointing backward to what no longer is. They testify.

Abstract photographs may record or register but do not testify or bear witness except to their own presentness, which has its own poignancy. They exist fully within the consciousness of photography’s compromised truth — compromised in the sense that the object retains its ambiguity, never quite whole and independent, never lapsing into transparency, hovering between formality and contingency.

[line break added] They reaffirm photography’s objectivity without recourse to factitious representations. They are not free but they are unburdened. They allow for chance without the anxieties of an illusionary formal control. They expand photography’s capacity for representing the beautiful by creating occasions for beauty’s recognition within us.

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




June 21, 2016

Figure Out How to Do It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… The only way you can get it is by divorcing yourself somewhat from the image. You’ve got to sit down and figure out how to do it.

This is from Realists at Work by John Arthur (1983). This is from the studio interview with Chuck Close:

[ … ]

Chuck Close: … One of the problems with criticism of work like mine and the painters with whom I’m often linked is that very few writers have discussed what it is like to stand in front of the paintings. I think the actual experience of an Estes street scene and of a painting by Cottingham is very different.

[line break added] Yet, reproduced on the same page, their work might look quite similar. So I have not focused much on the iconography, but these are images that matter a great deal to me. I would never spend a year to make one of them unless it was an image that was very important to me and hopefully, to the viewer.

The reason I chose the human head was that it is something that everybody knows a lot about and cares about. If I painted a rock and made the texture too rough or the color too green, nobody but a geologist would know or care, but we all know faces, so if the texture of the skin is too rough or the color too green, the viewer instantly recognizes that something strange is going on.

I care a great deal about these images and the people who were kind enough to lend me their images. In contrast to the history of portrait painting, which is a tradition by and large of commissioned portraits, these people were really unselfish, not knowing what I was going to do or how many years I might keep dealing with their images. I mean, poor Phil Glass or Keith Hollingworth.

[line break added] They lent me their images in 1968 or 1969, and I’m still doing pieces based on them. So it’s a long-term commitment. I really want to make it clear how important these images are to me. I would never work with someone else’s photograph. I would never do a commissioned portrait. I would never alter an image to please a sitter. These are very personal experiences.

Another reason I have commented more on technique, process, and limitations is that just because I want something in the image doesn’t mean I’m going to get it. The only way you can get it is by divorcing yourself somewhat from the image. You’ve got to sit down and figure out how to do it.

Chuck Close, Mark, 1979 [image from Wikipedia]

[ … ]

C. C.: … I’m as concerned as the next person with man’s inhumanity to man and hate what’s going on in the world, but it seems to me that those pieces that are often described as humanist with a capital H deal only with extremes of emotion — Francis Bacon’s screaming head or a cardinal or a pope, Leonard Baskin’s blind, bloated, dead bodies. I don’t think that this is the only way to comment on a human being.

People without extremes of expression still have tremendous indications embodies in their faces which tell us a lot about them, neutrally presented with no particular editorializing on my part. I’m not trying to get people to think anything in particular about the subject. I just want to present it flat-footedly, in a deadpan kind of way. Yet people who laugh all the time have laugh lines.

[line break added] If they frown a lot, they have furrows in their brows, so I don’t have to paint them laughing or frowning in order to get that. I want to present them without cranked-up or exaggerated emotion. And I don’t want the viewer to walk away from the painting with only one experience. I think a variety of people looking at an image will often leave with totally different experiences because of that neutrality.




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