Unreal Nature

July 21, 2016

Certain Types of Making Sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

Third Cinema is most emphatically not simply concerned with ‘letting the oppressed speak with their own voices’ …

This is from the essay ‘The Third Cinema Question: Notes and Reflections’ by Paul Willemen found in Questions of Third Cinema edited by Jim Pines and Paul Willemen (1989):

[ … ]

First cinema expresses imperialist, capitalist, bourgeois ideas. Big monopoly capital finances big spectacle cinema as well as authorial and informational cinema. Any cinematographic expression … likely to respond to the aspirations of big capital, I call first cinema. Our definition of second cinema is all that expresses the aspirations of the middle stratum, the petit bourgeoisie …

Second cinema is often nihilistic, mystificatory. It runs in circles. It is cut off from reality. In the second cinema, just as in the first cinema, you can find documentaries, political and militant cinema. So-called author cinema often belongs in the second cinema, but both good and bad authors may be found in the first and in the third cinemas as well. For us, third cinema is the expression of a new culture and of social changes. Generally speaking, Third Cinema gives an account of reality and history. It is also linked with national culture …

[line break added] It is the way the world is conceptualized and not the genre nor the explicitly political character of a film which makes it belong to Third CinemaThird Cinema is an open category, unfinished, incomplete. It is a research category. It is a democratic, national, popular cinema. Third Cinema is also an experimental cinema, but it is not practised in the solitude of one’s home or in a laboratory because it conducts research into communication. What is required is to make that Third Cinema gain space, everywhere, in all its forms … But it must be stressed that there are 36 different kinds of Third Cinema. [Fernando Solanas, 1979]

… two characteristics must be singled out as especially useful and of lasting value. One is the insistence on its flexibility, its status as research and experimentation, a cinema forever in need of adaptation to the shifting dynamics at work in social struggles. Because it is part of constantly changing social processes, that cinema cannot but change with them, making an all-encompassing definition impossible and even undesirable.

[line break added] The second useful aspect follows from this fundamental flexibility: the only stable thing about Third Cinema is its attempt to speak a socially pertinent discourse which both the mainstream and the authorial cinemas exclude from their regimes of signification. Third Cinema seeks to articulate a different set of aspirations out of the raw materials provided by the culture, its traditions, art forms, etc. the complex interactions and condensations of which shape the ‘national’ cultural space inhabited by the filmmakers as well as their audiences.

[ … ]

The unity of a particular culture is an open unity [in which] lie immense semantic possibilities that have remained undisclosed, unrecognized, and unutilized. [Mikhail Bakhtin]

… The silence of the oppressed may be an active form of resistance, a refusal. It may also be the result of a socially induced incapacity to activate certain registers of meaning, the exercise of social power having succeeded in blocking access to a number of semantic possibilities. It is important to stress this particular effect of power, since it is often overlooked by people who study the way consumers use products of the cultural industries: questions of pleasure are often emphasized at the expense of an examination of the stunting and restrictive effects of dominant discursive regimes which constantly repeat the ruling out of certain types of making sense.

[ … ]

In our enthusiasm for specification we have ignored questions of the interconnection and interdependence of various areas of culture; we have frequently forgotten that the boundaries of these areas are not absolute, that in various epochs they have been drawn in various ways; and we have not taken into account that the most intense and productive life of culture takes place on the boundaries of its individual areas and not in places where these areas have become enclosed in their own specificity. [Mikhail Bakhtin]

… their pursuit of the creative understanding of particular social realities takes the form of a critical dialog — hence the need for both lucidity and close contact with popular discourses and aspirations — with a people itself engaged in bringing about social change. Theirs is not an audience in the Hollywood or in the televisual sense, where popularity is equated with consumer satisfaction and where pleasure is measured in terms of units of the local currency entered on the balance sheet. Theirs, like Brecht’s, is a fighting notion of popularity, as is clear from Solanis’ insistence on Third Cinema being an experimental cinema engaged in a constant process of research.

Third Cinema is most emphatically not simply concerned with ‘letting the oppressed speak with their own voices’ : that would be a one-sided and therefore an untrustworthy position. Those voices will only speak the experience of oppression, including the debilitating aspects of that condition. Third Cinema does not seek to induce guilt in or to solicit sympathy from its interlocutors. Instead, it addresses the issue of social power from a a critical-but-committed position, articulating the joining of ‘the intelligence, the emotions, the powers of intuition,’ as Espinosa put it …




July 20, 2016

The Deoxygenated Stillness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

Baltz’s photographs are neither mirrors nor windows but frames — the analysis they structure is what gives the view.

This is from the essay ‘Photography’s Objecthood’ by Matthew S. Witkovsky found in the Prototypes volume of the multi-volume Lewis Baltz (2010

… we first need to wrest Baltz’s early works from the orbit of fine photography in which they continue to be discussed almost exclusively. A review of two key early exhibitions shows how misguided it can be to class works of art based on their medium, and suggests in particular the difficulties Baltz faced as he struggled with the dominance of documentary photography during the 1960s and 1970s.

First is the “New Topographics,” a show that cemented Baltz’s fame, indeed, as a photographer operating in a documentary mode.

… [the show’s curator William] Jenkins’ vision of the documentary seems fixedly centered on democratic empiricism. The photographers in “New Topographics” were not judgmental, in Jenkins’ view, nor were they attempt[ing] to validate one category of pictures to the exclusion of others” — in other words, they were not elitist. … Availability, neutrality, a studied absence of affect marked Jenkins’ claims for these photographers.

[line break added] He picked “topographics,” it turns out, as a synonym for “document,” stressing not topos but descriptive fidelity in defining his use of the term: ” ‘The detailed and accurate description of a particular place … ‘ The important word is description for although photography is thought to do many things to and for its subjects, what it does first and best is describe them.”

Baltz is quoted at length in the short catalog essay, and it is ironic, for his comments do not support Jenkins’ exposition.

… Abstraction and, certainly, art, are Baltz’s intention, not just in the Prototypes but also Tract Houses and New Industrial Parks, the series featured in “New Topographics.” There is thus no way that Baltz could agree with Jenkins that “Ruscha’s pictures of gasoline stations are primarily about a set of aesthetic issues,” (Jenkins admires Schott’s description of Ruscha as making “statements about art through the world”) while “true” photographers are speaking directly about the world: “This [non-judgmental] viewpoint, which extends throughout the exhibition, is anthropological rather than critical, scientific rather than artistic.” The distinction between criticism and research, aesthetics and information, is specious, especially when one is on the terrain of the documentary.

Baltz’s photographs are neither mirrors nor windows but frames — the analysis they structure is what gives the view. Indeed, the “work” as such meant and included its presentation in books or exhibitions, with all the literal and discursive framing this entailed.

None of this was understandable in the terms of ordinary photographic criticism in the 1970s, although it could certainly be grasped in relation to advanced art. Consider the example of Richard Serra, who like Baltz was preoccupied with landscape on the one hand and the ordering of public space on the other — and who, in Baltz’s memory, was the first Castelli artist to praise his work.

Tract House #17, 1971

… Unlike the Bechers, Baltz is not inventorying forms or types of structures; there is not even a pretense of system in his Prototypes or subsequent series. His images may be “deadpan,” but his prints are the opposite of lackluster, the common characteristic of Ruscha’s photobooks, the photoemulsion canvases of Baldessari, or photographic projects by the young Douglas Huebler, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Christian Boltanski, and others.

[line break added] (As an obvious point of difference, Baltz slavishly printed his own photographs, while the others pointedly took theirs to the one-hour store — and mixed anonymous photographs with their own, an even more radical gesture.) The rigor, the deoxygenated stillness, the magnetic surfaces of the Prototypes are qualities that utterly distance them from most vernacular photographic forms.

There is one class of vernacular photography that Baltz’s photographs do resemble, however: corporate studio work. Although their rich printing somewhat obscures this comparison, the even lighting, isolation and decontextualization of the subjects, and surface allure are all traits that bring the Prototypes close to commercial presentation pieces, especially sales images for trade fairs or company brochures.

… The objecthood of Baltz’s prints undoes their status as views of any sort onto reality — alternative, true, ironic, or otherwise.




July 19, 2016

The Same Damned Thing Over and Over

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… making us inescapably aware of the frameworks we habitually look through but not at.

This is from the essay ‘Chuck Close Then and Now’ by Kirk Varnedoe in Chuck Close by Robert Storr (1998):

Like other artists of his generation — Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra, Philip Glass — Chuck Close does the same damned thing over and over. The constrictive boxes he puts around his options, and his nonstop recycling of motifs and methods, might seem to guarantee monotony. But art is where narrowing and breadth can cohabit; and scanning from say, Close’s Big Portrait in 1968 to its equivalent in 1997, we see growth and transformation emerge from apparently straitened consistency in the way a likeness coalesces from the brickwork of his modular marks.

Big Self-Portrait, 1967-68

… Associated less with mass printing than with photography and piecework, this spitting needle [the airbrush used by Close in some of his early work] was better suited to fudging approximations — retouching small passages of halftone shading — than to pumping brassy declarations. To monumentally “copy” a close-up of a face by slowly accreting this squirter’s droplet veils was like making Mount Rushmore with a dental drill — an enterprise of tremendous perversity, a potlatch spectacle of seemingly gratuitous hand labor.

Perceptually and formally, this scale and way of working set up dilemmas of relation between units and unity, parts and whole, that appealed to Close. And looking within art, the contrast between the instantly overpowering given and the motif, and the exhausting, indigestible profusion of the visual data, perhaps had a covert affinity with the mental judo of Jasper Johns’s flags and targets, where a swift initial “reading” runs against the deliberately slow, inch-by-inch facture.

[line break added] Like the banality of the blown-up head shots themselves, though, this laborious way of making art also just seemed mammothly dumb — which was part of its offensive, subversive force. Such in-your-face dumbing-down (found contemporaneously in sculpture’s assertion of material over style, and weight over image) trumped the soup cans and serialism that had seemed so shockingly brainless a decade before.

[line break added] In a critique that was implicitly political and attuned to the dyspeptic, disillusioned radicalism of the emerging 1970s, it rejected Pop’s and Mimimal’s postures of ironic distance as frustratingly impotent, and spurned their “smart” adoption of fast-hit commercial slick — whatever the satirical or critical intent — as being too close to collusion with the dominant forces of big-time consumer society. As if updating a William-Morris-like insistence on handcraft, many young artists of the day then advanced the ritualized, even fetishized, show of rote, incremental personal labor as if it had a saving moral force of authenticity.

… The “realism” of these pictures may have only partly to do, then, with a positivist idea of truth to observed facts and more to do with the distinctly modern notion of achieving authenticity by “foregrounding” schemas of representation often ignored or taken for granted — making us inescapably aware of the frameworks we habitually look through but not at.

Self-Portrait, 1997

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




July 18, 2016

The Work Establishes a Measure

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… I have chosen the structure of a relation. I have chosen certain conditions (rules that I have made up) that reveal themselves in the logic of the procedure.

This is from ‘Play it Again, Sam’ [1970] in Richard Serra: Writings Interviews (1994):

… The perception of the work in its state of suspended animation, arrested motion, does not give one calculable truths like geometry, but a sense of presence, an isolated time. The apparent potential for disorder, for movement endows the structure with a quality outside of its physical or relational definition.

… “We experience more than we can analyse” (A.N. Whitehead). “Sensibility is inclusive and precedes analytic awareness.” (Anonymous). In San Francisco they say, “Flash on it.”

There is no general rule as to which formal properties suffice to determine the structure of a relation. I have chosen the structure of a relation. I have chosen certain conditions (rules that I have made up) that reveal themselves in the logic of the procedure.

There is a difference between definite literal fixed relationships, i.e., joints, clips, gluing, welding, etc. and those which are provisional, non-fixed, “clastic.” The former seem unnecessary and irrelevant and tend to function as interposed elements.

This next is from ‘Shift’ in the same book:

… The boundaries of the work became the maximum distance two people could occupy and still keep each other in view.

… What I wanted was a dialectic between one’s perception of the place in totality and one’s relation to the field as walked. The result is a way of measuring oneself against the indeterminacy of the land. I’m not interested in looking at sculpture which is solely defined by its internal relationships. When you bounce a ball on a shifting ground, it doesn’t return to your hand.

… The work establishes a measure: one’s relation to it and to the land. One walks down the hill into the piece. As one does, the elements begin to rise in relation to one’s descending eye-level.

… The machinery of renaissance space depends on measurements remaining fixed and immutable. [By contrast] These steps [in his work ‘Shift’] relate to a continually shifting horizon, and as measurements, they are totally transitive: elevating, lowering, extending, foreshortening, contracting, compressing, and turning. The line as a visual element, per step, becomes a transitive verb.

Richard Serra, Shift, 1971-72




July 17, 2016

I Smell a Führer Somewhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… they don’t even look as if they enjoyed dancing.

This is from ‘Argentinita; Some Musicals; Graham’s “American Document” ‘ [1939] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… Even when she [Argentinita] hardly moves, there is in the air that extra sense of well-being all over that is dancing. And especially her waist; if you haven’t noticed how beautiful the middle of a dancer is, you can learn from her.

La Argentinita

It’s the bearing of any Spanish gypsy dancer that makes me feel so good, the lift of the waist, the expressive stretch from the pit of the stomach to the small of the back. It’s the bearing of a bullfighter too, when he makes his passes. It lifts the hips and lightens the feet, it settles the shoulder, eases the arm, and frees the head. And it seems to heighten the dancer’s visibility. Perhaps expression in dancing, the sense of an impulse, comes from the diaphragm, as Isadora said.

[line break added] A flamenco dancer always seems to have more expressiveness than he needs for a gesture, a kind of reserve of it that gives him an independent distinction — or dignity, as I have heard Spaniards say, who are very sensitive to this quality. Perhaps, looking at it technically, it is the strictness of this fundamental position that gives coherence and point to everything within the flamenco range; that gives the dancer the freedom to shift from serious to funny; that keeps the male dancer from getting all wet with stagey glamor.

[line break added] You see, these are all problems that the modern dancer is puzzled by. Another thing that a gypsy dancer can do is go into or come out of a dance without embarrassment. She walks up to the guitarist and stands there clapping her hands a few times and then starts, or she stops dancing and sings a little, or she stops and lets someone else dance while she merely stands around or walks. This change between heightened movement and ordinary movement is a wonderful contrast on the stage; it puts the performer on an equal footing with the audience, it makes him a casual human being and his big moment all the more interesting.

[ … ]

Martha Graham’s American Document is a major work, as everybody knows, with a moral to which everyone subscribes, stated by a narrator. It wants “to capture the feeling of America.” I see Miss Graham’s sincerity, her fine technique, her intensity. But I am troubled by the monotony of equal thrusts, the unrelaxed determinations. There is something too constantly solemn, too unhumorous, too stiff about it; something sectarian.

The following is from Denby’s essay ‘Modern Dancers as Human Beings’ [1939]:

… When you see six of them on the stage, all you can do is count six, you can’t tell six what. They don’t seem to be girls combining with other girls, they don’t seem to have any human relation to one another. They seem artificially depersonalized, and their bodies operated from offstage. I smell a Führer somewhere, and I get uncomfortable. I wish our dance groups would look as if they were free agents. I wish they would look as if they liked being together, at least as much as folk dancers do, or lindy-hoppers.

Well, another thing that makes me uncomfortable with modern groups is that they don’t even look as if they enjoyed dancing. We all know that expression of sobriety they wear not only on their face but on their body, too. It covers a group of them like an unattractvie army blanket. From their programs, from their choreographies, they mean to express all sorts of things; but they don’t show them. They seem to be thinking of the next movement as though they were afraid they’d forget it. When I think of the natural kind of dancing, or folk dancing, I notice it doesn’t express anything but the pleasure of being in a dance.

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




July 16, 2016

To Engage What Remains Hidden

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… Whereas the plan leads to an end, the map provides a generative means, a suggestive vehicle that ‘points’ but does not overly determine.

Continuing through the essay ‘The Agency of Mapping: Speculation, Critique and Invention’ by James Corner found in Mappings edited by Denis Cosgrove (1999):

… For the landscape architect and urban planner, maps are sites for the imaging and projecting of alternative worlds. Thus maps are in-between the virtual and the real. Here, Winnicott’s question, ‘Did you find that in the world or did you make it up?’ denotes an irrelevant distinction. More important is how the map permits a kind of excavation (downward) and extension (outward) to expose, reveal, and construct latent possibilities within a greater milieu.

[line break added] The map ‘gathers’ and ‘shows’ things presently (and always) invisible, things which may appear incongruous or untimely but which may also harbor enormous potential for the unfolding of alternative events. In this regard, maps have very little to do with representation as depiction. After all, maps look nothing like their subject, not only because of their vantage point but also because they present all parts at once, with an immediacy unavailable to the grounded individual. But more than this, the function of maps is not to depict but to enable, to precipitate a set of effects in time. Thus, mappings do not represent geographies or ideas; rather they effect their actualization.

Mapping is neither secondary nor representational but doubly operative: digging, finding and exposing on the one hand, and relating, connecting and structuring on the other. Through visual disclosure, mapping both sets up and puts into effect complex sets of relationship that remain to be more fully actualized.

[line break added] Thus mapping is not subsequent to but prior to landscape and urban formations. In this sense, mapping is returned to its origins as a process of exploration, discovery and enablement. This is less a case of mapping to assert authority, stability and control, and more one of searching, disclosing and engendering new sets of possibility. Like a nomadic grazer, the exploratory mapper detours around the obvious so as to engage what remains hidden.

… mapping differs from ‘planning’ in that it entails searching, finding and unfolding complex and latent forces in the existing milieu rather than imposing a more-or-less idealized project from on high. Moreover, the synoptic imposition of the ‘plan’ implies a consumption (or extinguishing) of contextual potential, wherein all that is available is subsumed into the making of the project. Mapping, by contrast, discloses, stages and even adds potential for later acts and events to unfold. Whereas the plan leads to an end, the map provides a generative means, a suggestive vehicle that ‘points’ but does not overly determine.

Robinson and Petchenik claim that ‘in mapping, one objective is to discover (by seeing) meaningful physical and intellectual shape organizations in the milieu, structures that are likely to remain hidden until they have been mapped … plotting out or mapping is a method for searching for such meaningful designs.’ In other words, there are some phenomena that can only achieve visibility through representation rather than through direct experience.

[line break added] Furthermore, mapping engenders new and meaningful relationships amongst otherwise disparate parts. The resultant relational structure is not something already ‘out-there,’ but rather something constructed, bodied forth through the act of mapping. As the philosopher Brand Blandshard observes, ‘space is simply a relation of systematized outsideness, by itself neither sensible nor imaginable’; it is created in the process of mapping.

To be continued.

My previous post from Corner’s essay is here.




July 15, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… the scene always seems to slip from our sight before it comes fully into focus … ‘the moment of actuality slips too fast by the slow, coarse net of our senses.’

This is from Michael Snow: Wavelength, by Elizabeth Legge (2009):

In 1966, at the height of Minimalist art and its objects, Michael Snow, a Canadian artist, filmmaker and musician then living in New York, chose not to make another object to be places in a room, but instead planned a film of a room.


Wavelength has functioned ever since as a touchstone for contemporary art and film studies, and as a blue screen in front of which a range of ideological and intellectual dramas have been played.


… For most of the film, the camera does not itself move or advance, but the zoom creates a sense that it is heading somewhere and getting closer — even though the zoom only means a lens is being turned, or that the visual field is narrowing. The effect is a gradual compression of the space, as if it were being shovelled against the far wall and displaced to the sides, in an unseen leak at the edges of the screen.

[line break added] (Our eyes keep moving to the sides to see if we can see the advance of the lens, as if we were watching a shadow lengthen.) This flattening intensifies when the initially oblique angle of the zoom changes to its final head-on approach. Yet, in spite of this strange collapsed spatiality, we also experience the zoom as our own virtual movement into depth — not quite bodily, but through a feeling of being pulled forward by our eyes, merely by looking.

[line break added] At the end, when the zoom closes in on a smaller and smaller area of the waves [in a photograph of the ocean on the far wall], we feel that it is actually carrying us into the photograph, in something like a dream of flying, as if there were no barrier, as if the zoom could puncture the photograph, wall and screen and move beyond them, out into and over the waves.


… Yet as the zoom persists and pushes forward into the space, we become vaguely aware of the interruptive shifts in the zoom’s focal length, which give it a speculative volition, as if new decisions were continually being entertained. In effect, the screen image seems to respond to the depicted events in the room, creating the sense that the room is itself an organism responding to entrances and intrusions, perhaps mimicking or cuing our own responses …

… Does Wavelength somehow constitute an ontology of film, or does it just raise the idea of ontology? Does it restore a ‘transcendent subject’ with mastery over the perceptual field, both as author and as viewer, or does it block that suspect entity? Does it somehow enact consciousness by provoking an intensified phenomenological experience in the viewer, or does it interfere with our sensory immersion by stimulating a disruptive undertow of self-awareness?


Snow’s zoom could work as an allegory of apperception, the process by which the mind brings experiences and memories to bear on our senses, unifying the flow of sensation, or of film itself as a succession of stills in which the perceptible adjustments of the lens stand for the imperceptible modification of successive film frames. The zoom is a kind of scale marking our experience of time as one of both loss and accumulation.

… The zoom can be taken in two ways: as either coring out the territorial power of space by invasive temporal turns of the lens, or as spatial interruptions of time conceived as linear inexorability.

… perspective in Wavelength would be a cliché used as a ‘probe’ (Snow noted ‘room probe’) into the hidden environmental structures of culture. In the film, the apparent mastery implied by a fixed, raised vantage point is played against a cool exclusion, as the scene always seems to slip from our sight before it comes fully into focus — or, to use George Kubler’s words, ‘the moment of actuality slips too fast by the slow, coarse net of our senses.’

[line break added] The passages of intense color and flashing light make us feel that the world is being transmuted into new substances — with light itself giving up its ordinary role of making other things visible while being invisible, and instead shaking apart into its component spectral colors, taking on mote-like textures, turning into a particle accelerator and prism.




July 14, 2016

That Carries the Burden

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… ‘It is the “inter” — the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space — that carries the burden of the meaning of culture.’

This is from the essay ‘Art and Cinema: Some Critical Reflections’ by Mark Nash, found in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader edited by Tanya Leighton (2008):

… ‘Video and film installations have now introduced deepest night or dusk into the museum.’ The artist, as Groys points out, now controls the light by which we see their work. [Groys’s] second [point] concerns a shift in the temporal conditions influencing our perception of art. Moving pictures have begun to suggest to the viewer how much time they should spend on contemplation.

[line break added] However, should we ‘interrupt our contemplation of some video or film work in order to return to it at a later point, we will inevitably be filled with that very same feeling of having missed something crucial and will no longer be sure what is really happening in the installation.’ Moving images, in other words, return us to the experience of real life, ‘that familiar place … where one is forever haunted by the feeling of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.’

[line break added] Moving-image installations create an anxiety in the viewer for which there is no adequate and satisfactory solution: ‘Whatever the individual’s decision, either to stay put or to keep moving, his choice will always amount to a “poor compromise.” ‘ In the cinema, on the other hand, the audience is traditionally immobile, secure in the knowledge that, provided they don’t miss the beginning of the film, they will have seen everything they need to see to understand the work.

… But I will argue that there can be no necessary connection between a particular formal approach to the conditions in which a work is experienced (e.g. creating a mobile spectator) and a presumed radicality.

The key question is whether the new physical mobility that the spectator is offered in gallery and museum installations really involves a critique of dominant spectatorial regimes of cinema. Do gallery-based moving-image practices participate in the construction and problematisation of the subject in this way?

Homi K. Bhabha proposed the concept of a ‘third’ space which he made the condition for the articulation of cultural difference: ‘It is the “inter” — the cutting edge of translation and negotiation, the in-between space — that carries the burden of the meaning of culture.’ In seeking to overturn the dualism underlying much contemporary and theoretical practice, Bhabha further sets out the enunciative terms for a vanguard artistic practice, supplementing those of Kapur:

The language of critique is effective not because it keeps forever separate the terms of the master and the slave, the mercantilist and the Marxist, but to the extent to which it overcomes the given grounds of opposition and opens up a space of translation.

[ … ]

… If one is too much the native informant, one is too close. If one is too much the ethnographer, one is too far. The struggle for the artist is to find the correct distance.

… to what extent are we still involved in the paradox of what Walter Benjamin called the ‘optical unconscious’ — namely, the move to a subjective register which accompanies depiction once it is separated from a critical frame? Benjamin critiqued the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) photography as saying ‘the world is beautiful,’ in opposition to Bertolt Brecht’s imperative that ‘the point is to change it.’

[line break added] One might argue that much of the work involved in the contemporary ‘documentary turn’ is involved in an analogous but dystopian move. This time the affect produced is one of horror rather than wonder: the world is no longer beautiful, and we are in the process of witnessing the destruction of the world as we know it. Crucially then, where is the position for critical engagement in all this?

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




July 13, 2016

Dirty Subject Matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… for him, dirt is “matter out of place,” unpleasant, unsuitable, a taboo.

This is from the essay ‘An Obscene Aesthetic: From the Grand Facade to the Sublime Dirt’ by Susanne Figner found in Lewis Baltz (2013):

… The concept of the industrial or technological sublime first emerged in the 1960s, in Leo Marx’s popular book, The Machine in the Garden among other places. Marx explained how the mixture of attraction and repulsion that is characteristic of the sublime had been transferred from natural to industrial objects in the service of an American ideology.

[line break added] Originally derived from the Romantic era in Europe, the concept of the sublime describes aesthetic experiences in nature that are simultaneously perceived as monstrous and fascinating. This combination of contradictory emotions is found with landscapes of immense dimensions (the Alps, for example) or events with potentially catastrophic consequences (avalanches, volcano eruptions).

[line break added] In the United States during the same period, the sublime was applied to industrial developments such as canals, bridges, and steam-driven locomotives. This transfer was a consequence of American settlement policies and the discovery of gold on the West Coast, in the wake of which businessmen, politicians, and journalists began to glorify the American machine as an instrument of freedom and democracy.

[line break added] The rhetoric was at once utopian and ideological: industrial inventions were considered signs of a progressive spirit, while landscapes left to grow wild were equated with a backward intellect. The authors of progress — engineers — were celebrated as the new heroes who generated prosperity for all at home and demonstrated America’s superiority abroad.

… For many artists who participated in the protests against the Vietnam War, the industrial rhetoric had an insipid aftertaste, and they began to address the negative consequences of the technological sublime. Robert Smithson photographed sewer pipes and heaps of earth in New Jersey, calling them the new monuments.

[ … ]

Lewis Baltz, Park City, interior, 3, 1980

Lewis Baltz has himself used the word “obscene” for his visual presentation of social dirt: for him, dirt is “matter out of place,” unpleasant, unsuitable, a taboo. Applying a sublime vocabulary to dirty subject matter means referring to an aesthetic otherwise used for the sale of a product or the dissemination of an ideology. Baltz layers this universally understood visual language with antisublime subject matter to make a contrary statement.

[line break added] Although he does not refer explicitly to Smithson, when using the term obscenity he also seems to allude to the anthropomorphic and sexualized language with which Smithson described his own industrial objects and the sculptures of Robert Morris and Claes Oldenburg. The dialectic of a monstrous object that should not be shown but is shown anyway describes the combination of horror and fascination inherent in the dynamic of the sublime.

… For Baltz, the postmodern sublime is a means to point to an ideological aesthetic and to infiltrate it with dystopian motifs. The sublime is thus subjected to a dual demystification: the continuity of ideological patterns is reinforced, while the inevitability of its failure is revealed.




July 12, 2016

Detached and Meticulous Attention

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

Close has created a psychological zone where it is possible to violate the physical privacy of another human to an unprecedented degree.

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

Self-Portrait, 1997 [detail]

… Portraiture, as a genre, bears the stigma of mixed motives. Historically, portraits have predominantly been work for hire, which in virtually every instance dictates that the task of the artist, whatever his or her independent creative objectives may be, is to make the sitter look good or resemble some prescribed image. The art of commissioned portraits is, therefore, as much a matter of social and psychological manipulation as it is of aesthetic considerations, and rarely has it reached its peak without indulgence on the part of the subject.

… modern portraiture became a laboratory for stylistic experimentation and for the form-altering analysis of personality and milieu. [as examples, Storr points to Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, and Francis Bacon]

… With these and similar examples in mind, Close’s statement “I tried to purge my work of as much of the baggage of traditional portrait painting as I could” is both provocative and logical.

Linda, 1975-76

Close’s impatience with cliché intended to speak to “the human condition” declares itself. “I consider myself a humanist, but why must all humanists deal with blind people, or bloated dead bodies, or man’s inhumanity to man? Why can’t we reflect on less dramatic or less primitive situations? I’m interested in approaching the subject flat-footedly, very unemotionally. Lack of highly charged emotion doesn’t mean no emotion. It means that I’m not cranking it up for its maximal emotional impact.”

… Everything about these faces, from misshapen features to the smallest blemish or lapse in grooming, is recorded, inspected millimeter by millimeter by the artist, and blown up to giant scale. Detached and meticulous attention explains the intrusiveness of Close’s gaze rather than unkindness. Nevertheless, the effect, especially in chill tones of gray, can be simultaneously mesmerizing and off-putting if not positively repulsive.

Mark, 1978-79

… The photo-maquette guarantees the coherence of the images while the artist works, but, as he paints, he sees in only in pieces. This incremental hard-by-the-surface approach gives the completed heads a sense of precarious integrity even when they are fully described, as in the continuous tone paintings of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The viewer is drawn toward details that require stepping up to the canvas to the point that other details move to the periphery of vision and begin to lose clarity along with the overall coherence of the image.

[line break added] When the features of a faced are atomized into paint bursts, dots, crossbars, fingerprints, or the hook-rug weave of color circles and lozenges that Close has employed since the mid-1980s, that instability increases to the verge of dissolution, calling into question the perceptual threshold at which image recognition is achieved or lost.

[ … ]

… By refraining from moral or psychological commentary and by withholding personal sympathy, Close has created a psychological zone where it is possible to violate the physical privacy of another human to an unprecedented degree.

Self-Portrait, 1997

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




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