Unreal Nature

August 31, 2016

Intentional Lack of Reflection

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… these pictures impress us not as a comment on experience, or as a reconstruction of it into something more stable and lasting, but as an apparent surrogate for experience itself, put down with a surely intentional lack of reflection.

This is from John Szarkowski’s Introduction to New Japanese Photography edited by John Szarkowski and Shoji Yamagishi (1974):

… It has been said (repeatedly) that photography is a universal language. In fact, however, photography is merely a universal technique. To speak of it as a language is to ignore the fact that its meanings (unlike those of Greek, or algebra, for example) cannot be translated with any acceptable degree of precision into other languages. It is surely clear also that only in its most pedestrian and utilitarian functions does photography approach universality of meaning.

Most of the meanings of any picture reside in its relationship to countless other and earlier pictures — to tradition. In the case of photography, this tradition is so short, complex, and chaotic, containing so many rapid changes and apparent contradictions, that even the best of photographers — who are generally more alert than anyone else to the content of this tradition — comprehend it only intuitively and fitfully. As practiced by its most talented and original workers, photography is not the lingua franca of our age, but perhaps the most underground of all the arts.

… Both in form and subject matter, “serious” prewar Japanese photography (meaning that work done with aesthetic intention) imitated the aspect of the traditional pictorial arts. Subject matter was typically pastoral, lyric, thoroughly familiar, and philosophically acceptable. Visually the pictures were constructed of neat and simple graphic patterns, favoring a strong planarity and a submerging of specific detail.

[line break added] Even contemporary subjects were seen from a safe psychological distance, which bathed them in a mist of contemplative noninvolvement. Ironically, these photographs were probably imitations of the work of Western photo pictorialists, who had themselves learned most of what they knew from a third-hand Japonisme. After the war the inadequacy of this tradition would have been evident to any serious photographer.

… The quality most central to recent Japanese photography is its concern for the description of immediate experience: most of these pictures impress us not as a comment on experience, or as a reconstruction of it into something more stable and lasting, but as an apparent surrogate for experience itself, put down with a surely intentional lack of reflection.

[line break added] In the visual arts, it would be difficult to name an artist who more closely approaches the ideals of automatic writing than Daido Moriyama, and even the highly systematized and conceptualized work of Ken Ohara seems designed to exclude, rather than reinforce, conscious critical or aesthetic interpretation.

spread from Ken Ohara‘s One, 1970

… One can assume that photographers of other countries will appropriate — and domesticate for their own uses — that which is of greatest value to them. And one can hope that Japanese photographers will continue to explore the exhilarating possibility that — in the arts at least — there is after all more than one world.




August 30, 2016

Inside Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… What marks the outsider is the conviction that there is only one world, and that world includes, explains, and ultimately consumes the so-called objective world, turns it inside out.

Continuing through How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (2005):

… the artist shows no fidelity to a preexisting reality. These artists have no interest in mastering the conventions that would be necessary to achieve a goal they do not seek. Their primary experience is the encounter between a hand driven by imagination and the flat surface. Art becomes an enactment, not a transcription. The depth and dimensions of the image arise entirely in the patterns and relations of the figures that fill the space.

… Artists always see their own art differently from the way audiences see it. The works they appreciate most are often different from the ones critics praise. But with outsider artists and with some self-taught artists, this problem never arises because the artists themselves seem often to have no sense of quality or make no judgments when it comes to their own work.

… For most outsiders, the created object is a means to another end or the by-product of a process of inner equilibration.

… Repetitive visual patterns, intricate detail lavished on trivial visual elements until a sheet of paper becomes an impenetrable field, words and phrases incorporated over and over again like mantras — these are some of the elements of outsider art most familiar to the public. They are lumped together under the term “obsession.” But surely Picasso was in the grip of an obsession that would not allow him to stop making images, and Matisse was as well, painting as an invalid from his bed using a long pole with an attached brush.

[line break added] The same can be said for contemporary artist Steve di Benedetto (b. 1958), for example, who for a number of years has made images almost exclusively of helicopters, or the photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984), who shot thousands of rolls of film he would never print or even look at more than once. Obsession is the occupational hazard of all artists, who would rather do what they do than anything else, or, at least, cannot stop doing this one thing regardless of what they desire.

… The output is staggering: 25,000 densely worked, complex pages and nearly 3,300 drawings and collages in little more than three decades — the output of Adolf Wölfi dwarfs even that of the indefatigable Picasso and Matisse. So, too, does that of Henry Darger, who produced not only an illustrated epic of some 15,000 pages but also a 5,000-page journal detailing weather patterns. Although still a teenager, Jonathan Lerman has already produced hundreds of drawings at breakneck pace.

Adolf Wölfi, General view of the island Neveranger, 1911

… Even more striking than the prodigious output and energy of these artists are the ambition and scope of their projects. They attempted to create visual worlds in which all the significant features of their imaginative life could find a place. For those new to the field of outsider art, its most impressive — and disturbing — feature is this impulse to contain everything, to assimilate everything in the work. And because the work is created outside the usual commercial channels of approval and reception, it is truly as if art is being proposed as an alternative universe.

… The totalizing ambition of these and many other projects reverses the usual priority of world and artist. It is not simply that the artist molds an alternative world out of his or her imagination. Artists always do that. What marks the outsider is the conviction that there is only one world, and that world includes, explains, and ultimately consumes the so-called objective world, turns it inside out.

[line break addedJorge Luis Borges provided a striking image of this in his story ‘Tlön, Uqbar, and Orbis Tertius.’ It describes a vast fictional world, complete in every detail, created and elaborated by a legion of imaginative people by secret agreement, over the course of centuries. References to it are salted away in libraries and archives. Once it is discovered, it exerts an irresistible fascination and finally takes dominion over the ideas, values, philosophies, and actions of the normal world.

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




August 29, 2016

In the Prismatic Matrix of Art

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… giving the public a chance to see where the art of their time really went, regardless of where it was supposed to go.

This is from the Introduction the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

Since it first came into common usage in the mid-1940s, the idea of the “mainstream” has been a comfort to the aesthetically timid and the aesthetically authoritarian alike. For much of the ensuing half-century this article of blind faith constituted a pact between them, assuring the former that they would make no errors in taste and the latter that they could be confident of due deference as good taste’s infallible arbiters. To all intents and purposes, Clement Greenberg introduced the phrase to art criticism …

… [Greenberg implied] that the writer [critic] was in a position to foretell history’s direction and could thus assess the degrees of congruence with or deviation from the progressive course of art that individual talents were taking.

… the assumptions upon which this model is predicated, assumptions imparted to generations of artists, critics, and members of the general public, continue to echo through the dialogue around contemporary art.

… when it comes to painting and sculpture — the only things of any real interest to Greenberg and to those he most influenced — the conviction lingers that although the channel carved by the mainstream may have widened slightly, or taken a few unexpected swerves here and there, it nevertheless proceeds along the magnificent trajectory it always has, fed by tributaries but never in danger of being lost in the marshes that periodically bank it.

[line break added] While many have come to fear that it may ultimately spill into a dead sea, the prospect that it might instead flow into and disperse throughout a fertile delta is rarely considered, despite abundant evidence that that is just what is happening. According to Greenberg’s paradigm and its many, equally tendentious variants, the challenge to artists is to travel the dominant currents and stay in the lead of art history’s regatta.

[line break added] Opposing those currents is absurd, riding the shoreline is treacherous even as it appears timid, and exploring bayous or branching rivers is a time-wasting detour, if not the prelude to being lost sight of altogether.

… the history of critical contention and triumphalism, as distinct from the history of art or ideas, repeats itself. Once the principal constituencies in such debates have declared their favorites and acknowledged their nearest rivals. the relative positions of all the rest fall into place, with mavericks distinguishing themselves only by their equidistance from their most touted competitors.

[line break added] Publicity blitzes, market euphorias, and other factors may temporarily draw attention to previously unnoticed or underestimated artists, and, when sustained, may reshuffle the order of priority, but long-term legitimacy hinges on being seen as part of the pack, if not ahead of it while moving in the same direction. That’s the way history’s mandate is determined; that’s the way the game is played.


Elizabeth Murray … has periodically ridden the mainstream but more often has charted her own way.

… Pluralistic by temperament, though far from vague or tentative about her work needs, she once told an audience of students that “to be right, it is not necessary that everybody else be wrong.” By “right,” of course, she means able to locate one’s own creative vector; maneuver independently within it to the maximum extent that the demands of freely chosen materials, processes, formats, and iconography will permit at any point; and, out of the decisions made, produce arresting, demanding, and authentic works of art.

… Given the visible effort her art takes, and the eclectic precedents she absorbs and transmutes, the freshness of her work is a triumph over easier — less strenuous, more novelty-based — solutions to the hard problems posed.

Elizabeth Murray, Dust Tracks, 1993

[ … ]

… This book … offers the chance to make arguments on behalf of Murray’s work that the artist might not make herself, and in some cases might not wholly endorse, but that, without distorting perspective, broaden the angle of view from which her work may be approached, and so amplify its resonances and expand its meanings.

[line break added] And that is what museum retrospectives are intended to do: place a unique undertaking in the prismatic matrix of art and watch the effects that other bodies of art have on it and that it has on them. The point is not to historicize the new but to refresh the historical, in the process giving the public a chance to see where the art of their time really went, regardless of where it was supposed to go.

Elizabeth Murray is one of the most dynamic American painters of the end of the twentieth and the beginning of the twenty-first century, and one of the hardest to assimilate. There are reasons for both of these things; the exhibition is a demonstration of the former, the text that follows an attempt to account for the latter.

Elizabeth Murray, Worm’s Eye, 2002

To be continued.




August 28, 2016

Odd Little Vivacities

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… one can find virtuoso subtleties and ingenuities … , odd little vivacities, implications, hesitancies, bursts of rhetoric, tiny gusts of inspiration …

This is from ‘An Open Letter about the Paris Opera Ballets’ [1950] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… When they begin they suggest a kind of glitter of stylishness onstage that fills me with happy expectation. They show at once that they are going to have variety of expression, that they are not going to do the immature juvenile charm act far too many adult Anglo-Saxon dancers do. So I look forward to the dance action to come when their interesting expressions will become an interesting grace of movement, when it will bloom and shed a radiance over the stage as a dancer’s expression does in dancing.

Instead, what I see is different. The dance action looks small and constricted and close, it makes the dancers become short-limbed. In the general effect of shrinkage, the dancers keep their pointed expressions, and the result is arch. Affectedly so, it often seems to me. When I see them stepping out gingerly, when I see a large bold step modestly diminished and a stabbing rapid one becomingly blurred, see the girls separate their thighs as if reluctant to do that in public, the world of decent domesticity it conjures up appalls me.

[line break added] And when I catch fretful flappings and crookings of elbows, dissatisfied glances of the girls toward each other and irritated ones at the conductor, a fluster of waist wriggles, wrist flicks, and head tosses, the expression reminds me of a nervous woman who can’t resist tidying up her furniture and her person after the guests have already sat down.

[line break added] The boys seem to take the feminine flurry with a slightly superior or interestingly sullen male detachment, though their own action is not free of what look like fatuous flourishes and they promenade about with a tight bouncy step that looks silly. All this is my first impression and at this point I realize I have misunderstood everything so far and missed the point completely. So I look more closely at what is happening.

The dancers are well-built and strong; but I begin to see that the Opera style transforms them according to its own ideas of grace.

… The style’s idea of musical grace in dancing is as peculiar as its idea of grace of movement, I mean equally puzzling to a ballet-goer used to the Russian-derived style. The Opera dancer likes to put the dance stress where the shape of the musical phrase gives it no support; so it gets a petulant look. She likes to begin a shade behind the beat as if prettily taken unawares, and end a little ahead as if in confusion; then she adds a vigorous flip of the wrist on the last note, which by being synchronized makes the wrist suddenly look disproportionately big, as big as a leg.

[line break added] I speak from the standpoint of the Russian style, which treats the score like a glorious partner on whose strength the dancers soar and dart and effortlessly end. By contrast the Opera style has the music run along beside the dancer like a stray dog — it keep shying away from her when she stops and getting underfoot when she goes on again. An accomplished Opera dancer is one who makes one forget what a nuisance it is.

But such a view is based on the assumption that the Paris Opera style is doing worse what the Russian style does better. Looking at it closer, the Opera style indicates on the contrary that its intentions are different to begin with. Its conception of rhythm and of phrasing inclines away from that of the music and toward that of speech. The general effect is not unlike that of speech rhythm. The dancer shapes her phrases by giving them point, as one would in speaking.

[line break added] She selects a step in the sequence and points it up, giving it a slight retard and a slight insistence, and she lets the other steps drop around it so to speak casually and a shade hastily, much as a glittering conversationalist stresses the telling word, delivers his epigram and seems to throw the rest of the sentence away. Following the step rhythm as speech rhythm — and as speech rhythm set against music — one can find virtuoso subtleties and ingenuities in the phrasing of an Opera soloist, odd little vivacities, implications, hesitancies, bursts of rhetoric, tiny gusts of inspiration that hurry her onward.

[line break added] We Anglo-Saxons think a dancer looks like a lady when she dances divinely; but that is our lack of realism. The Paris style doesn’t mean to transport you so far from the appearances, from the awkward graces and characteristic reserves of normal sedentary city life. The point of unprofessional carriage and unmusical rhythm is to make the dancer look less like a marvelous vision and more like an opinionated Parisian with all her wits about her whom one might meet in a room full of conversation.

… as for me, I see that by instinct I can hardly be fair to the style. The weak rhythm it has by choice depresses me as I watch. … I love the thrill of [Russian-style] grace in meaning. But large-scale vitality in ballet, even apart from any meaning, is also a pleasure, deeper than it seems. The Paris Opera style has too weak a pulse, too weak a dance rhythm for these two kinds of exhilaration.

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




August 27, 2016

Unpicturable Images

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… How one generates and effectuates ideas is bound into a cunning fluency with imaging.

This is from the essay ‘Eidetic Operations and New Landscapes’ found in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990– 2010 (2014):

Landscape and image are inseparable. Without image there is no such thing as landscape, only unmediated environment. This distinction can be traced back to the Old English term landskip, which at first referred not to land but to a picture of it, as in the later, selectively framed representations of seventeenth-century Dutch landschap paintings.

[line break added] Soon after the appearance of this genre of painting, the scenic concept was applied to the land itself in the form of rural vistas, designed estates, and ornamental garden art. Indeed, the development of landscape architecture as a modern profession derives, in large measure, from an impulse to reshape areas of land according to prior imaging.

[line break added] Not only is a collective recognition of land as landscape made possible through exposure to prior images (a phenomenon central to both spectacle and tourist landscapes) but also the ability to intentionally construe and construct designed landscapes is enabled through various forms and activities of imaging.

Whereas imaging is central to forging landscape, the tendency of many contemporary landscape architects to assume that this prioritizes visual and formal qualities alone significantly limits the full eidetic scope of landscape creativity. I use the term eidetic — meaning “of a mental image” — to refer to a mental conception that may be picturable but may equally be acoustic, tactile, cognitive, or intuitive.

… That representation exercises such agency and effect is precisely why images in design cannot properly be considered as mute or neutral depictions of existing and projected conditions of secondary significance to their object; on the contrary, eidetic images are much more active than this, prompting or participating in the shaping of new realities.

[line break added] Far from the assumed inertia of passive and objective representations, the paper surfaces and computer screens of design imaging are highly efficacious operational fields on which the theories and practices of landscape are produced. Any recovery of landscape in contemporary culture is ultimately dependent on the development of new images and techniques of conceptualization.

… To the degree that everyday inhabitants experience landscape, they do so in a general state of distraction, and more through habit and use than through vision alone. Any eidetic image of place is bound into a greater phenomenal range of significance than vision or contemplation affords.

… Much of the so-called postmodern critique is targeted at exposing the authoritarian and alienating characteristics of synoptic objectification, including master planning (aerial regimes) and scenography (oblique and perspectival regimes). Extended to landscape, this critique suggests that a too-narrow concern for landscape as object (whether as formal composition or as quantifiable resource) overlooks the ideological, estranging, and aestheticizing effects of detaching the subject from the complex realities of participating in the world. Here, I want to echo Heidegger’s “loss of nearness” as well as modern culture’s withdrawal into privacy …

… I am more interested in drawing a distinction between landskip (landscape as contrivance, primarily visual and sometimes also iconic or significant) and landschaft (landscape as an occupied milieu, the effects and significance of which accrue through tactility, use, and engagement over time). Both terms connote images, but the latter comprises a fuller, more synesthetic, and less overtly picturable range than the former.

… composite techniques focus on the instrumental function of drawing with regard to production; they are efficacious rather than representational. In other words, through utilizing a variety of analytic and analogous imaging techniques, otherwise disparate parts can be brought into productive relationship, less as part of a visual composition and more as means or agents.

Other composite imaging operations include ideograms, imagetexts, scorings, pictographs, indexes, samples, gameboards, cognitive tracings, and scalings. Imagetexts, in particular, are conspicuously absent and underdeveloped in the design arts. These are synthetic and dialectical composites of words and pictures that together contain and produce an array of striking and otherwise unpicturable images.

… The landscape imagination is a power of consciousness that transcends visualization. To continue to project landscapes as formal and pictorial objects is to reduce significantly the full scope of the landscape idea. If ideas are images projected into the political and cultural imagination in ways that guide societies as they try to manage change, then their absence can only precipitate social regression into memory (nostalgia), on the one hand, or complete deference to technology (rational expediency), on the other. How one generates and effectuates ideas is bound into a cunning fluency with imaging.

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




August 26, 2016

Our Uttered or Outered Senses

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… we can translate more and more of ourselves into other forms of expression that exceed ourselves.

This is from ‘Reversal of the Overheated Medium’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… When Sputnik had first gone into orbit a schoolteacher asked her second-graders to write some verse on the subject. One child wrote:

The stars are so big,
The earth is so small,
Stay as you are.

With man his knowledge and the process of obtaining knowledge are of equal magnitude. Our ability to apprehend galaxies and subatomic structures, as well, is a movement of faculties that include and transcend them. The second-grader who wrote the words above lives in a world much vaster than any which a scientist today has instruments to measure, or concepts to describe. As W.B. Yeats wrote of this reversal, “The visible world is no longer a reality and the unseen world is no longer a dream.”

Associated with this transformation of the real world into science fiction is the reversal now proceeding apace, by which the Western world is going Eastern, even as the East goes Western.

This next is from ‘Media as Translators’:

… What we call “mechanization” is a translation of nature, and of our own natures, into amplified and specialized forms.

… It is all capsulated in the popular variant on Robert Browning: “A man’s reach must exceed his grasp or what’s a metaphor.” All media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms. The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way.

[line break added] Words are a kind of information retrieval that can range over the total environment and experience at high speed. Words are complex systems of metaphors and symbols that translate experience into our uttered or outered senses. They are a technology of explicitness. By means of translation of immediate sense experience into vocal symbols the entire world can be evoked and retrieved at any instant.

In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness. That is what is meant when we say that we daily know more and more about man. We mean that we can translate more and more of ourselves into other forms of expression that exceed ourselves.

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




August 25, 2016

Acts of Seeing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… one … difference … arises out of the distinction between a documentary’s acts of showing and Brakhage’s (antithetical) acts of seeing.

This is from the essay ‘Seeing with Experimental Eyes: Stan Brakhage’s The Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes‘ by Bart Testa found in Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of Documentary Film and Video edited by Barry Keith Grant and Jeannette Sloniowski (1998):

… We can readily imagine watching another equally explicit movie of autopsies; but very likely we will also imagine that such a film would allow us to slip behind verbal explanations of the pathologists’ procedures, analyses of the cause of death, or perhaps some moral argument that necessitates showing such images.

[line break added] However, as Bill Nichols notes, none of these familiar viewing strategies is on offer here: “We witness what exceeds our sight and grasp. The camera gazes. It presents evidence destined to disturb. The evidence cries out for argument, some interpretive frame within which to comprehend it. Nowhere is this need more acutely felt than in a film that refuses to provide any explanatory commentary whatsoever.”

… Ideally, in a well-made documentary there is a symmetry in the exchange of signifying relations between images and “interpretive frames,” and this exchange makes showing and explanation a unity. This is the case whether the images are made to illustrate the steps of a technical process (as in, say, a medical or industrial education film) or to provide forceful evidence for a moral or political argument. The uses of images in documentary filmmaking hold in common the role of performing what, in simple summary terms, could be called acts of showing.

… To illustrate a procedure that needs to be explained, for example, or to support a moral argument, provides a ready-made position from which to comprehend what is shown. By creating such a position, which is what structures of understanding do, even traumatic images are softened by making them significant evidence within an interpretive frame.

[line break added] The act of showing implants images within a wider and controlling function of meaning. This implantation subordinates seeing images as literal presentations to the higher-order process of argumentation. Witnessing and seeing recede, to a greater or lesser degree, behind signification and showing.

This is a film that completely dispenses with any verbal explanation. It is not a film about showing, but about bringing us very close to actual bodies in a morgue; in other words, it is a film rigorously about seeing. It remains at a literal level of confrontation with a truth, which is why Nichols says it “exceeds our sight and grasp”: Brakhage’s film restricts its means to an act of seeing, and seeing this, as the direct witness to bodies under autopsy.

… I have already suggested one limited but sharp difference between Brakhage’s film and documentary practice: it arises out of the distinction between a documentary’s acts of showing and Brakhage’s (antithetical) acts of seeing. Further, Nichols has isolated a significant positive structural feature that allows us to distinguish the efforts of documentarians from the exertions of experimental filmmakers.

[line break added] Documentarians are committed to exposition, explanation, and argument of kinds that are shared by the socially defined “discourses of sobriety,” those recognized as serious explanations of truth, such as science, politics, and religion. Documentary’s “interpretive frames” are homologies of socially recognized, knowable, and understood meanings. Avant-garde cinema, in contrast, often pursues less socially recognized sorts of meaning; artists are drawn to subject matter that goes unaccounted by, or seems incomprehensible, mysterious, and/or forbidden to “sober discourse.”

[line break added] Arguments and interpretations of the sober type are very often ignored by experimentalists in favor of exploratory and hence unfamiliar aesthetic, philosophical, and poetic structures of expression, many of which are not actually assimilable to “discursive” forms at all. This is true of Brakhage’s film. It completely abandons verbal argument and other ready “interpretive frames” and deliberately focuses on what seems, in principle, to be unknowable and mysterious — the spectacle of death.

Brakhage times and paces the shots, and frames sequences, so none remains long enough or repeats often enough to desensitize the viewer. We are never allowed to get used to the film’s imagery, to watch it as part of a procedural routine, and so not see it. The act of seeing, its shock and troubling power, is constantly renewed. Indeed, the images are so relentlessly literal and, in the main, so clearly shot that all there seem to be in this film are successive acts of seeing, and seeing this. And this seeing is itself, Brakhage seems to imply, the film’s moral end.




August 24, 2016

The City, with All Its Raging Signals

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… There are no resources left but pure observation.

This is from Beyond Japan: A Photo Theatre by Mark Holborn (1991):

Klein had overturned photography, particularly the objective disciplines of Cartier-Bresson, which were dominant in Europe. He incorporated distortion, blur, wide-angle views and grain into his vocabulary and created a new dynamic. It was a great moment in the history of the medium, as rough and roaring as the first howling sounds of an amplified guitar. The book had a kinetic form in correspondence to the dynamic of the city. It was nearer to the spirit of music or the abstraction of painting than to photography.

[line break added] The pace was like that of film, creating a cumulative layering of imagery. Purity, reduction, and the art of simplification expressed in the metaphysics of American photography from Stieglitz to Weston had been displaced by a collage effect, by density and bold graphic strokes like those of a painter. Klein had photographed a world in flux; he had found the language of chaos. For astute Japanese, he offered a strategy with which they could encounter the layers of their own chaos.

… When he [Klein] arrived there [in Tokyo in the early ’60s], all he saw were photographs that looked like his own. Such was the strength of his influence that Klein, ‘the Barbarian,’ crossed from West to East, to find the distorted mirror image of his own work. Indeed, when the Japanese printers worked on [Klein’s book] Tokyo, they missed the mid-tone greys that Klein was exploring, and they printed the work in stark black and white contrast, in imitation of his earlier work. At all levels Klein’s language was both absorbed and imitated.

While the circle of culture recycled Klein, the world he entered was as unfamiliar as another planet, where he had no scores to settle and where he knew nothing of the language or social gestures. Besides the inherent qualities of a hieroglyphic sign language and the density of the Japanese city, the street offered Klein a purely detached graphic experience. Every action was ritualized. Whether he was in the gym, at the Kabuki theatre, on a street in the Ginza, or at a sports stadium, he was observing the flow of ceremony. The city itself became theatre.

[ … ]

Masatoshi Naitoh

Naitoh was digging like an archaeologist beneath the layers of the city to find the ghosts of Edo, the remnants of the foundations of the city. In the introduction to Tokyo (1985), Naitoh pointed out that four centuries ago, the site of Tokyo was a wilderness that grew into Edo, the largest city in the world, in the space of a single century.

[line break added] The city foundations were connected to traditions of magic with the founding of the Imperial Palace as the central axis, from which the city radiated out according to geomantic tradition. In his search for archaic evidence he found a cast of demonic characters, witches and guardians of this other world.

Masatoshi Naitoh

… Like Naitoh, Hijikata often referred to darkness as a source of the imagination. Naitoh now talks of a loss of darkness and his work has been published with an emphatically dark aesthetic. The luminous, electric city is a challenge to his archaic shadow land. More than fifty years ago Junichiro Tanizaki had defined darkness as residual in the Japanese imagination in his essay In Praise of Shadows.

[line break addedNaitoh finds a true Japan in the contradictory roles of yamabushi in the mountains of the far north and as an inhabitant of the sprawling megalopolis of the future. In Tokyo he stalks the darkest alleys where the shadow world is preserved and which the blazing lights can never reach.

Masatoshi Naitoh

[ … ]

… Sometimes, after weeks of no contact with the outside, I have walked to the densest intersection of the city and felt invisible. A huge crowd, whose language I do not speak, whose body gestures I do not fully understand, walks past me, envelops me, and shows no sign of recognition. That point is the axis, the center of the map.

[line break added] Theories of Japan are displaced by the sheer momentum of experience. The borrowed imagery of film and photographs is discarded as if I had actually entered a film and was participating on the screen I was witnessing. There are no resources left but pure observation. The city, with all its raging signals displayed around me, is an abstract wall. I engage with the inhabitants as through a filter; they hardly see me.

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




August 23, 2016

A Mad Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

“… psychotic representation attests to a mad desire to reinstate convention, to reinvent order, which the psychotic feels to be broken and in desperate need of repair or replacement.”

Continuing through How to Look at Outsider Art by Lyle Rexer (2005):

… The marketplace notwithstanding, can the productions of people under extreme psychic duress communicate to us as “insiders,” and how must we change our attitudes about art in order to appreciate these works? We need to tread carefully, and not just because these works have the power to unsettle. They may not be art at all, at least as we usually understand the word …

… Many outsiders have no sense that what they are making is an independent, expressive aesthetic object, whose purpose is communication and whose destiny is to be appreciated and contemplated by others, to be integrated into their world. In spite of the fact that works by outsiders are distinctive and apparently expressive, there is often a chilling impersonality about them, an indifference to any audience and to themselves as individuals. In some cases the “art” is a form of private communion, in others an apparently mechanical activity, and in still others the transcription of urgent communication from sources beyond the self. But the messages test the limits of intelligibility.

… Two broad categories of so-called mental illness — schizophrenia and autism — force us to ask the question, “Is it art?” The taste of our time has rehabilitated this work for appreciation and commercial sale, but that does not resolve the question, nor does it promote genuine understanding of the works themselves. To survive and find an audience, the work must endure both the current fashion for transgressive imagery and biography and, conversely, the many attempts to limit the art’s relevance by labeling it with a narrow symptomology.

… because for these artists the very act of object-making is itself an episode of integration, the art can often indulge gestures for their own sake, violent or playful games without any communicative purpose. While the artist works, he or she defers chaos and suspends contradictions, and the gestures of art become acts of temporary liberation, even in the midst of anger and fear.

… in schizophrenia, art is never part of the problem but always part of the solution, always evidence of an effected reconciliation between inner and outer experience. As critic Hal Foster puts it: “Far from avant-gardist in its revolt against artistic convention and symbolic order, psychotic representation attests to a mad desire to reinstate convention, to reinvent order, which the psychotic feels to be broken and in desperate need of repair or replacement.”

At this point we might ask: If such “art” does not necessarily attempt to construct coherent images or communicate a message, or if the message is so deeply sequestered that its intended meaning cannot be coaxed out by any audience, what value can the work have for us? These questions seem to miss the most cherished virtue of art, certainly for critics, that is, its “depth,” its multiple levels of available significance.

One answer is that works of art can seize our attention and make connection in other ways. First and foremost, the work of these outsiders can show us forms in combinations and relations that have never been forged before. The imagery can act as visual poetry, illuminating in a sudden flash the fugitive connections between things and ideas, or forms and feelings.

… To hunt for [meaning] in the psyche of the creator is chimerical. To believe it inheres exclusively in the order of the work — an order that may be unintelligible — is fruitless. We are to discover personal resonances and visual analogies with other art. The structure of the work sets the parameters of what we see, but we intuit or deduce further connections within the work itself and to our own experience.

Rexer hasn’t answered his own question: “Is it art?”

My previous post from Rexer’s book is here.




August 22, 2016

Art’s Hidden But Persistent Narrativity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… It tells of those larger movements of the artist’s personality, his persistence, his intuitiveness, his cunning, his triumph.

This is from MoMA curator Laura Rosenstock’s Introduction to Richard Serra/Sculpture (1986):

Serra’s works involve the viewer in this creative, exploratory process. They heighten perceptual awareness and virtually force interaction. They compel the viewer to confront his experience and perception of them in relation to both space and time and to focus on their physical properties and the manner in which they were created.

[line break added] All Serra’s sculptures are concerned with what can actually be experienced and observed. Some reveal the process of their making, some clarify aspects of their physical properties, and others redefine the nature of the space they occupy. It is only in tracing these interactions, in “working” to understand the pieces, that they become fully comprehendible and meaningful.

[ … ]

… The artist himself has said: “The structures are the result of experimentation and invention. In every search there is always a degree of unforeseeability, a sort of troubling feeling, a wonder after the work is complete, after the conclusion. The part of the work which surprises me, invariably leads to new works.” For Serra, “most work comes out of work and out of the perception of work.”

[line break added] His structures evolve from earlier pieces and from his experience of those pieces. The viewer, too, must “work” to understand the pieces. By participating in the work, by confronting his perceptions and exploring the paths revealed by the sculptures, the viewer discovers the complexity and meaning of the structures and ultimately shares in the excitement the artist derives from his work.


The following is from Rosalind Krauss’s essay in the book (the essay title is the same as the book title):

… One of the founding arguments about visual art’s relation to narrative turns on the essential distinction between the medium of narration — time — and that of the depicted image — space. In this difference, Gotthold Lessing had argued in the Laocoön (1766), one should locate both the separate problems of the various aesthetic mediums as well as the genius particular to each.

[line break added] He concluded that the problem for the visual artist, who is limited to just one moment in a narrative sequence, is to find the most suggestive or most pregnant moment, the one that will imply both what has already happened and what is to come.

… [The] supposed voiding of narrative within Modernism is, however, only seeming. For Modernist art’s simultaneity is still understood as a “most pregnant moment” — an experience extended and made replete with a certain kind of understanding, a certain kind of ecstatic or spiritual dilation, a certain kind of drive to completion. Within this situation, the genre of the Portrait of the Artist has a special role.

[line break added] It is the signifier of art’s hidden but persistent narrativity; for the unfolding of the artist’s gesture in this work, which is a model on a small scale for the larger unfolding of all his gestures into that totality of his works to which we give the name oeuvre, this is the story of the artist that each portrait can encapsulate. It tells of those larger movements of the artist’s personality, his persistence, his intuitiveness, his cunning, his triumph.





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