Unreal Nature

June 17, 2016

Signs of Exertion

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

Heilmann continues to search for new presentations of the unpresentable in order to enjoy as well as mourn them …

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

… The goal of this book is to read this outwardly simple pink-and-black painting thoroughly by examining (or better yet, by playing with) its parts without losing any of the pure joy — and some of the pain — of its enduring immediacy. This will not be easy to do, given how often we will have to put one aspect of our occasionally oblique discussion on hold in order to bring in another, and another. Call it a ‘delay of game.’

Heilmann_SaveTheLastDance
Mary Heilmann, Save the Last Dance for Me, 1979

… Nothing in this painting moves, but everything in it has a real-life quality of motion, simply because it takes some time to fully experience how the complexity of a painting unfolds before your eyes, perhaps only to reveal that it isn’t actually the painting you thought it was. It’s much like the way that the appearance of a stranger, glimpsed out of the corner of your eye, may totally change once he or she is viewed close up.

… Its top and left sides are actually pretty straight, but it’s almost impossible to focus on them because the bottom and right sides are very much not. Sloping, sliding, somehow torqued despite the flatness, they introduce a slight yet persistent swaying motion into the painting. It is this motion that undermines the pure, formal condition of the work.

… the drips accomplish what it seems that they are being asked to do, successfully reinforcing the choreographed activity of the entire work while keeping us focused on the fact that we are looking at a painting, a solid object made with material that was once liquid. They also provide the painting with a tangible sense of the type of ‘right moment’ that Denby encourages us to look for in order to encounter ‘all of that real life’: signs of exertion that may or may not be authentic, intentional or even particularly attractive.

… One thing is sure: Heilmann’s painting is anything but anti-modernist. For Lyotard, everything that connects modernism and postmodernism comes down to form, the crucial distinction being that it was believed to be ‘good enough’ in the former and not in the latter:

Here, then lies the difference: modern aesthetics is an aesthetic of the sublime, though a nostalgic one. It allows the unpresentable to be put forward only as the missing contents, but the form, because of its recognizable consistency, continues to offer to the reader or viewer matter for solace and pleasure. Yet these sentiments do not constitute the real sublime sentiment, which is in an intrinsic combination of pleasure and pain: the pleasure that reason should exceed all presentation, the pain that imagination or sensibility should not be equal to the concept.

The postmodern would be that which, in the modern, puts forward the unpresentable in presentation itself; that which denies itself the solace of good forms, the consensus of a taste which would make it possible to share collectively the nostalgia for the unattainable, that which searches for new presentations, not in order to enjoy them, but in order to impart a stronger sense of the unpresentable.

… It is the everydayness of the painting that, when combined with the anonymity of its shape-shifting circumstances, keeps us from taking it to be (only) modernist. The familiarity of the (familial) relationships of Heilmann’s paintings is also the reason why they are able to resist one of Lyotard’s conditions of the postmodern: Heilmann continues to search for new presentations of the unpresentable in order to enjoy as well as mourn them — to have it, if you will, both ways.

To be continued.

-Julie

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