Unreal Nature

October 31, 2016

The Piazza Is Still; The Figures Wait

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

De Chirico … appeals directly to … to those swamp-like regions at the edge of the mind …

This is from Giorgio de Chirico by James Thrall Soby (1966):

… At Paris de Chirico’s romanticism had centered on public buildings and squares. At Ferrara he turned to an equally intense preoccupation with the evocative atmosphere of rooms. Indeed the open piazza and the small chamber are the two opposite focal points of his metaphysics, the one for a time completely supplanting the other in his art. That he thought of architectural exteriors and interiors as separate emotional stimulants is apparent from his words on Giotto. After describing the latter’s sense of “cosmic mystery” in his use of architecture as subject matter, de Chirico goes on to say:

The square of the sky seen through a window is a secondary drama that interlocks with the drama of people’s imagination. When the eye rests on that blue or greenish expanse held in the square geometry of stone, many anxious questions come to mind. What might there be, over there? Does that sky overlook an empty sea or a crowded city? Or does it stretch over a wide, free and restless nature, over wooded mountains, dark valleys, plains furrowed by rivers?

[line break added] And the perspectives of buildings rise full of mystery and misgiving, corners conceal secrets, the work of art ceases to be a terse episode, a scene limited by the actions of the figures represented, and it all becomes a cosmic and vital drama which envelopes men and constricts them within its spirals, where past and future merge, where the enigmas of existence, sanctified by the breadth of art are divested of the entangled fearfulness that man — outside the world of art — imagines, only to assume the eternal, peaceful, consoling aspect of a work of genius.

[ … ]

The Disquieting Muses, 1917

… The Castello Estense in the Muses is flanked by a factory with red chimneys and the portico of a dark building. The piazza leading to the background architecture is incalculably deep and seems to consist of wide, wooden planking. On the piazza are placed two of the most haunting of the artist’s fantastic figures — sculptured mannequins, one of which has placed its head beside the blue box on which it sits. The figures are accompanied by the bizarre bric-a-brac of the dream world they inhabit, including a striped stick and a rectangular box ruled into triangles of contrasting colors. To quote from the description of the picture in Twentieth-Century Italian Art:

Perhaps more forcefully than any other work of de Chirico’s career the Muses illustrates the ambivalent, “metaphysical” nature of his early art. The picture attracts and repels, beguiles and frightens, conveys a warm nostalgic aura but at the same time suggests an impending catastrophe. There is no action; the piazza is still; the figures wait. What will happen?

[line break added] There is no answer, for this picture is the exact opposite of those seventeenth-century paintings of banditti in which a specific, disastrous outcome is foretold. De Chirico’s image — his early art as a whole — appeals directly to the counter-logic of the subconscious, to those swamp-like regions at the edge of the mind where ecstasies bloom white and the roots of fear are cypress-black and deep.

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




October 30, 2016

Facts Have a Way of Dancing About

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Dance criticism has two different aspects: one is being made drunk for a second by seeing something happen; the other is expressing lucidly what you saw when you were drunk.

This is from ‘Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Streets’ [1954] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

On the subject of dance criticism, I should like to make a clear distinction that I believe is very valuable, to keep the question from getting confused. And that is that there are two quite different aspects to it. One part of dance criticism is seeing what is happening onstage. The other is describing clearly what it is you saw. Seeing something happen is always fun for everybody, until they get exhausted. It is very exhausting to keep looking, of course, just as it is to keep doing anything else; and from an instinct of self-preservation many people look only a little.

[line break added] One can get along in life perfectly well without looking much. You all know how very little one is likely to see happening on the street — a familiar street at a familiar time of day while one is using the street to get somewhere. So much is happening inside one, one’s private excitements and responsibilities, one can’t find the energy to watch the strangers passing by, or the architecture, or the weather around; one feels there is a use in getting to the place one is headed for and doing something or other there, getting a book or succeeding in a job or discussing a situation with a friend, all that has a use, but what is there in looking at the momentary look of the street, of One-hundred-and-sixth and Broadway. No use at all.

[line break added] Looking at a dance performance has some use, presumably. And certainly it is a great deal less exhausting than looking at the disjointed fragments of impression that one can see in traffic. Not only that the performance is arranged so that it is convenient to look at, easy to pay continuous attention to, and attractive, but also that the excitement in it seems to have points of contact with the excitement of one’s own personal life, with the curiosity that makes one want to go get a special book, or the exciting self-importance that makes one want to succeed, or even the absorbing drama of talking and listening to someone of one’s own age with whom one is on the verge of being in love.

[line break added] When you feel that the emotion that is coming toward you from the performance is like a part of your own at some moment when you were very excited, it is easy to be interested. And of course if you feel the audience thrilled all around you just when you are thrilled too, that is very peculiar and agreeable.

[ … ]

… Did you really see anything? Did you see any more than you saw in the morning on the street? Was it a real excitement you felt? What is left over of the wonderful moment you had, or didn’t you really have any wonderful moment at all, where you actually saw onstage a real person moving and you felt the relation to your real private life with a sudden poignancy as if for that second you were drunk? Dance criticism has two different aspects: one is being made drunk for a second by seeing something happen; the other is expressing lucidly what you saw when you were drunk.

… [That] is of course what makes criticism criticism. If you are going in for criticism you must have the gift in the first place, and in the second place you must cultivate it, you must practice and try. Writing criticism is a subject of interest to those who do it, but it is a separate process from that of seeing what happens.

… creating dancing and seeing dancing are not the same excitement. And it is not about creating that I mean to speak; I am telling you this so you won’t sit here unless you can spare the time for considering in a disinterested way what seeing is like … . And it is not very likely either that I shall tell you any facts that you had better write down. I rather think you know all the same facts I do about dancing, and certainly you know some I don’t; I have forgotten some I used to know.

[line break added] About facts, too, what interested me just now is how differently they can look, one sees them one way and one sees them another way another time, and yet one is still seeing the same fact. Facts have a way of dancing about, now performing a solo, then reappearing in the chorus, linking themselves now with facts of one kind, now with facts of another, and quite changing their style as they do. Of course you have to know the facts so you can recognize them, or you can’t appreciate how they move, how they keep dancing.

[ … ]

… The difference between the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and a letter on the editorial page of the Daily News isn’t so great if you look at both of them without reading them. Art is certainly even more mysterious and nonsensical than daily life. But what a pleasure it can be.

… There is nothing everyday about art. There is nothing everyday about dancing as an art. And that is the extraordinary pleasure of seeing it.

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




October 29, 2016

Touch the Ground

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… Spun out of our heads, science and art remain anemic and without root, and need strengthening contact with nature once again.

This is from the Preface and the Introduction to The New Landscape in Art and Science by Gyorgy Kepes (1956; 1967):

… this book has an admittedly ambitious purpose. The customary modes of presentation are inadequate to realize this purpose; and an attempt is made here to develop a new form of communication.

Principles that C.S. Peirce asked of logic: “… to trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibers may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected.”

The method — for which preparing this book has served as a kind of laboratory experiment — fuses visual images and verbal communication in a common structure. The visual images — the pictures brought together here — are the content. The verbal statements — comments and documents — are illustrations. They do not constitute a connected, systematic account. The quotations touch the subject from one angle, the comments from another, with the visual images forming the basis of the interrelated structure that alone tells a connected story.

… It is not with tools only that we domesticate our world. Sensed forms, images and symbols are as essential to us as palpable reality in exploring nature for human ends. Distilled from our experience and made our permanent possessions, they provide a nexus between man and man and between man and nature. We make a map of our experience patterns, an inner model of the outer world, and we use this to organize our lives. Our natural “environment” — whatever impinges on us from outside — becomes our human “landscape” — a segment of nature fathomed by us and made our home.

When unprecedented aspects of nature confront us, our world-model inherited from the past becomes strained; the new territory does not belong to it. … We are denied the pleasures of experiencing the sensed form-patterns of this new world until we have traced the paths by which this poetry of form become meaningful.

That is our situation today. The strength of oak, the ferocity of the tiger, the swiftness of the eagle are expressions which are out of place in the new world of form revealed to us by modern science.

… The images and symbols which can truly domesticate the newly revealed aspects of nature will be developed only if we use all our faculties to the full — assimilate with the scientist’s brain, the poet’s heart, and the painter’s eyes. It is an integrated vision that we need; but our awareness and understanding of the world and its realities are divided into the rational — the knowledge frozen in words and quantities — and the emotional — the knowledge vested in sensory images and feelings. Artists and poets on the one hand, scientists and engineers on the other, appear to live in two different worlds. Their common language, their common symbols, do not exist.

To develop a vision which brings the inner and outer worlds together, we need common roots once more. We are like Antaeus of old, whose strength, ebbing whenever he lost contact with the Earth, his mother, became renewed each time he touched the ground. Spun out of our heads, science and art remain anemic and without root, and need strengthening contact with nature once again. The natural world remains the common basis for all of us, even though it is changed beyond recognition from the world of nature known to our fathers.

[line break added] It still starts for us where we come in contact with it — through our senses. Science has opened up resources for new sights and sounds, new tastes and textures. If we are to understand the new landscape, we need to touch it with our senses and build the images that will make it ours. For this we must remake our vision.




October 28, 2016

Under Their Spell

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:31 am

… the screen opens its white door into a harem of beautiful visions and adolescent dreams …

This is from ‘Movies: The Reel World’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… If the movie merges the mechanical and organic in a world of undulating forms, it also links with the technology of print. The reader in projecting words, as it were, has to follow the black and white sequences of stills that is typography, providing his own sound track. He tries to follow the contours of the author’s mind, at varying speeds and with various illusions of understanding.

[line break added] It would be difficult to exaggerate the bond between print and movie in terms of their power to generate fantasy in the viewer or reader. Cervantes devoted his Don Quixote entirely to this aspect of the printed word and its power to create what James Joyce throughout Finnegans Wake designates as “the ABCED-minded,” which can be taken as “ab-said” or “ab-sent,” or just alphabetically controlled.

The business of the writer or the filmmaker is to transfer the reader or viewer from one world, his own, to another, the world created by typography and film. That is so obvious, and happens so completely, that those undergoing the experience accept it subliminally and without critical awareness. Cervantes lived in a world in which print was as new as movies are in the West, and it seemed obvious to him that print, like the images now on the screen, had usurped the real world. The reader or spectator had become a dreamer under their spell, as René Clair said of film in 1926.

… It was René Clair who pointed out that if two or three people were together on a stage, the dramatist must ceaselessly motivate or explain their being there at all. But the film audience, like the book reader, accepts mere sequence as rational. Whatever the camera turns to, the audience accepts. We are transported to another world. As René Clair observed, the screen opens its white door into a harem of beautiful visions and adolescent dreams, compared to which the loveliest real body seems defective. Yeats saw the movie as a world of Platonic ideas with the film projector playing “a spume upon a ghostly paradigm of things.”

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




October 27, 2016

The Right to Be Wrong

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… a great director is one who lets you try for things.

This is from the essay ‘Burel & Bresson: Interview by Rui Nogueira’ found in Robert Bresson edited by James Quandt (1998). Léonce-Henry Burel worked as Bresson’s cameraman on several of his films:

Bresson’s art director, Charbonnier, had found a wonderful natural setting for the film [The Trial of Joan of Arc] under the observatory at Meudon. Charbonnier, incidentally, is a very nice man and a very talented painter even though I don’t understand his talent. We get on well, but we don’t talk the same language. It’s like Picasso: I just don’t understand, and it’s neither his fault nor mine.

[line break added] Anyway, these vaults he had found, huge and full of nooks and angles, were absolutely perfect as a medieval decor. I rubbed my hands, thinking what a joy it was going to be. We tested about a dozen girls, all of them very pretty, and Bresson chose one with great possibilities. Charming, absolutely right for the Maid, and with eyes that were extraordinarily intelligent, limpid, and pure.

Then we started. And he didn’t use the setting at all. He stuck me in front of a wall covered with cloth hangings to represent the tribunal where most of the action takes place. And bang up against the hangings — and on a little dais to boot — were the judges. You’d have thought it was a church pageant or something. I said to him, “Robert, why haven’t you left me anything behind so I can convey the feeling that we’re in an enormous room? What do you expect me to do with this?” “Ah,” he said, “but you see I want it to be simple and spare. I don’t want anything to distract the eye.” That was our first disagreement.

Next we simply turned everything round, still with that wretched dais, and shot the girl. You never saw Joan and her judges together, not once. No interrelation. For me this is Bresson’s kippered herring; you get a nice clean set of bones but nothing to eat around them. I saw it very differently, and quite honestly I think I could have done something with it. Second disagreement.

Our third disagreement had me curled up into a ball and showing my prickles, because it concerned me professionally. Here we had this sweet, simple, charming girl with the most marvelous, beautiful eyes, and Bresson would never let her look up at the camera. Never. She always had to look down, even when she was answering her judges. I told Bresson that if I believed in God, which I don’t, I would look up when I thought of Him. If I believed, He wouldn’t be beneath me but above me.

[line break added] Yet here Bresson was making Joan behave like a shifty hypocrite. And it wasn’t even a sign of humility in her, because Joan was not humble or humbled. She was a mystic, a visionary … you have to be to lead soldiers into battle without even knowing how to use a sword. I was so furious I really let myself go, and Bresson didn’t like it. He didn’t want to have Joan look up because Dreyer had done that.

Anyway, that was our great quarrel, and since Bresson will never admit his mistakes — as he is perfectly entitled not to — he held it against me. I had humiliated him, so he wanted to humiliate me. That, however, isn’t easy to do.


Burel also had no idea what Bresson was doing in Pickpocket:

… I wasn’t at all in agreement with Bresson about the film because I didn’t care for the way he turned his hero into a lousy little swine (even if he did love his mother).

But he did admire Bresson, nevertheless:

… I really loved my profession because you had everything to do, everything to discover. Nowadays everything has to be safe. They don’t take risks any more. … [A] great cameraman, to my mind, has the right to be wrong. And a great director is one who lets you try for things. … Bresson … he was the last of the species.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




October 26, 2016

Denial and Concealment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… The recovery of direct experience can start only from an awareness that destruction has occurred.

This is from the essay ‘Kodachrome – Introduction’ [1978] found in The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri (2016). The ‘Kodachrome‘ referenced is the title of one of Ghirri’s books:

… The daily encounter with reality, the fictions, the surrogates, the ambiguous poetics, or alienating aspects, all seem to preclude any way out of the labyrinth, the walls of which are ever more illusory … to the point at which we might merge with them.

Luigi Ghirri, Modena, 1973

Next is from ‘Photographs from my Early Years 1970’:

… I have never been interested in what is commonly referred to as style. Style is a coded reading, and I believe photography to be a codeless language, and rather than a kind or restriction, it is a broadening and expansion of communication.

Photographic ‘style’ is inherent in the very choice of photography as a language, and its way of seeing the world is inevitably limited by horizontal and vertical lines, i.e. what is caught within the frame. In this sense, photography always implies subtraction, or a sense of something missing, something outside the frame.

And third, from ‘Kodachrome 1970-1978′:

… My focus on the destruction of direct experience — the invasion of images into our environments — begins here. In the work, I wanted to offer an analysis of truth and falsehood, of the gap between what we are, and the image of what we’re supposed to be — and ultimately to think critically about the denial and concealment of truth.

… The recovery of direct experience can start only from an awareness that destruction has occurred. Perhaps it’s for this reason that many people, when writing about photography, say that it always shows what we already know — that which is common knowledge. I think this assertion should be corrected to say instead: photography always shows what we already think we know.

… Many (and not only in relation to this work) have mistaken these photographs for photomontages; instead I would be more inclined to call them ‘photodismontages,’ for they pay homage to that colossal photomontage that already exists — the physical world itself.

Photography is in any case always surreal in its changes of scale and its constant juxtapositions, and in comprising both the conscious (?) and unconscious (?) images of a reality no longer present. Reality is being transformed into a colossal photograph, and the photomontage already exists: it’s called the real world.




October 25, 2016

Judgment and Action

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… “The artist thinks about what he himself is going to do, does it himself, and then reflects upon the thing that he himself has done.”

This is from Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College: 1933-1957 by Helen Molesworth (2015):

… Both Rice and Dewey valued the creative and emotional aspects of human development and believed that art — or the “art experience” — was essential for nurturing an individual’s capacity to participate in a democracy. The arts, according to Rice, are “least subject to direction from without and yet have within them a severe discipline of their own.”

[line break added] An art experience, as Dewey outlined in Art as Experience (1934), was about discovering and respecting the integrity of one’s materials. Black Mountain College literature echoed this sentiment: “Through some kind of art experience, which is not necessarily the same as self-expression, the student can come to the realization of order in the world; and, by being sensitized to movement, form, sound, and the other media of the arts, gets a firmer control of himself and his environment than is possible through purely intellectual effort.”

[line break added] The theory is that the process of making art hones not only observation but also judgment and action, so that students who acquire intelligence through art both notice what is happening around them and develop individual responses to it. In Rice’s words, “The artist thinks about what he himself is going to do, does it himself, and then reflects upon the thing that he himself has done.” By encouraging both self-reflection and the translation of thought into action, pedagogy at Black Mountain began with art to end with democracy.

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




October 24, 2016

Felt So Strongly

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

De Chirico … seems helplessly involved in the strange happenings of his genius, an amateur delighted by bewildering success.

This is from Giorgio de Chirico by James Thrall Soby (1966):

The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914

… The painter himself must have attached no particular importance to this figure, since it does not occur again except in forgeries or later copies of his early works. To many people, however, the figure of the girl is an unforgettable invention; it is by now deeply imbedded in public consciousness, like Dali’s famous limp watches. And there is in fact an extreme fascination in following the girl’s progress within the image.

[line break added] She must run for the open light, past a yellow carnival wagon (an object several times included in de Chirico’s paintings of 1914), past a menacing arcade, past the forbidding shadow of a Victorian sculpture lying directly in her path. One has the impression that even if she reaches the light, she is doomed, for she is herself a shadow, perhaps retracing her steps which led to her dissolution, her image invested with the horror of ghostly re-enactment.

[line break added] No other painting by de Chirico more piercingly conveys the sense of omen which the painter himself once described as follows: “One of the strangest and deepest sensations that prehistory has left with us is the sensation of foretelling. It will always exist. It is like an eternal proof of the senselessness of the universe. The first man must have seen auguries everywhere, he must have trembled at every step he took.”

The Evil Genius of a King, 1914

… At this point it may be well to digress for a moment and consider wherein de Chirico’s still lifes, discussed above, differ from the “rococo” cubism being created simultaneously by his great colleague, Picasso. In 1914 both de Chirico and Picasso were intent on substituting new combinations for traditional juxtapositions of objects in still life; the latter’s sculpture of this year, The Glass of Absinthe, is a conspicuous case in point. Their methods of so doing, however, were quite opposite.

[line break added] Picasso’s choice of objects was based on an extraordinary visual sensitivity, whereby all manner of trite materials suggested to him the place they might find in a new, spontaneous, plastic order. He invented as he went along, guided by a sure associational instinct, as when, in The Glass of Absinthe, the top of the sculpture consists of a metal spatula or spoon. De Chirico, on the other hand, appears to have relied on a more or less total inspiration which he ecstatically transferred to canvas.

[line break added] He makes the matter clear in the following statement: “The revelation we have of a work of art, the conception of a picture must represent something which has no sense in itself, has no subject, which from the point of view of human logic means nothing at all. I say that such a revelation (or if you like, conception), must be felt so strongly, must give us such joy or such pain that we are obliged to paint, impelled by a force greater than the force which impels a starving man to bite like a wild beast into the piece of bread he happens to find.”

… Picasso’s control can almost never be questioned. He was and is a great artist who has made creative accidents happen almost at will, a professional born to his art and incredibly deft. De Chirico, contrarily, seems helplessly involved in the strange happenings of his genius, an amateur delighted by bewildering success. One feels that he has watched the objects accumulate in The Evil Genius of a King as a child watches the contents of a Christmas stocking pour out on the floor, not knowing what will come next and exclaiming at the miracle of what has already appeared.

My previous post from Soby’s book is here.




October 23, 2016

Hopping About to Music

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… he will tell you that he enjoyed it long before he knew what it meant or how it worked.

This is from ‘Ballet: The American Position’ [1947] found in Edwin Denby: Dance Writings, edited by Robert Cornfield and William MacKay (1986):

… Ballet is absurd by nature. But its absurdities are civilized ones. It is as absurd as a symphony concert. A symphony is seventy-five men on a stage who make noises together very earnestly for a couple of hours; and music lovers beam at some of the noises and lose their tempers over others. Ballet is a lot of young people hopping about to music in a peculiarly exhilarating way. Sometimes they’re being sad and sometimes funny, but they’re always in the pink of condition, charmingly built, graceful, well-mannered, and serious.

[line break added] Like an orchestra of musicians or a cast of actors they are busy building up the illusion of some sort of event; but they don’t waste so much time about it as actors and they are pleasanter to watch at work than musicians. Dancers appear briefly in all the glamour of orchestral sonorities and surprising fancy dress, and you find intelligent people who long afterward remember with affection some brief illusion that dancers created.

This is from ‘Against Meaning in Ballet’ [1949]:

… [Nineteenth-century French poet and ballet critic] Gautier assumes that all people need do to enjoy art is to look and listen with ready attention and trust their own sensual impressions. He is right. But when they hear that ballet is an elaborate art with a complicated technique and tradition, many modest people are intimidated and are afraid to trust their own spontaneous impressions. They may have been to a few performances, they may have liked it when they saw it, but now they wonder if maybe they liked the wrong things and missed the right ones.

[line break added] Before going again, they want it explained, they want to know what to watch for and exactly what to feel. If it is really real art and fine great art, it must be studied before it is enjoyed; that is what they remember from school. In school the art of poetry is approached by a strictly rational method, which teaches you what to enjoy and how to discriminate.

[line break added] You are taught to analyze the technique and the relation of form to content; you are taught to identify and “evaluate” stylistic, biographical, economic, and anthropological influences, and told what is great and what is minor so you can prepare yourself for a great reaction or for a minor one. The effect of these conscientious labors on the pupils is distressing. For the rest of their lives they can’t face a page of verse without experiencing a complete mental blackout. They don’t enjoy, they don’t discriminate, they don’t even take the printed words at face value.

[line break added] For the rest of their lives they go prying for hidden motives back of literature, for psychological, economic, or stylistic explanations, and it never occurs to them to read the words and respond to them as they do to the nonsense of current songs or the nonsense of billboards by the roadside. Poetry is the same thing — it’s words, only more interesting, more directly and richly sensual.

The first taste of art is spontaneously sensual, it is the discovery of an absorbing entertainment, an absorbing pleasure. If you ask anyone who enjoys ballet or any other art how he started, he will tell you that he enjoyed it long before he knew what it meant or how it worked.

… To some of my friends the images ballet leaves in the imagination suggest, as poetry does, an aspect of the drama of human behavior. For others such ballet images keep their sensual mysteriousness, “abstract,” unrationalized, and magical. Anyone who cannot bear to contemplate human behavior except from a rationalist point of view had better not try to “understand” the exhilarating excitement of ballet; its finest images of our fate are not easier to face than those of poetry itself, though they are no less beautiful.

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




October 22, 2016

Conceptual Boundaries

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… It is not particularly urban or wild, but simply removed from one’s normal environment.

This is from the essay ‘Vernacular Parks’ by Paul Groth found in Denatured Visions: Landscape and Culture in the Twentieth Century edited by Stuart Wrede and William Howard Adams (1991):

Design professionals usually see urban parks as official places: special areas reserved for finding aesthetic and spiritual refreshment, and for learning the ruling interpretations of nature and society.

… If we look at ordinary American environments, however, we find a very different and very vibrant urban park tradition, one that we might call the vernacular park. The vernacular park is ad hoc: it is not focused on a correct visual style, on the adulation of certain types of geological or botanical specimens, or on a prescription for specific activities. It is not particularly urban or wild, but simply removed from one’s normal environment. Like other vernacular landscapes, it is not focused on the future or on abstract ideas, but instead on the present and the everyday.

[line break added] People develop vernacular parks where official order is beginning to crumble — in underused areas of the city or out on the urban fringe. An uncharacteristically permanent but ubiquitous form of a vernacular park is the speedboat dock. Vernacular parks often exist within official parks: for instance, a dirt road behind the levee of an otherwise official urban park.

Children innately create and use vernacular parks largely invisible to the adult population. For the eight-year-old with a model boat or raft to float or pull with a string, the chains of mud puddles along the side of a road form a public recreation space that can stretch for several blocks. Children of all classes and ethnic backgrounds create and use vernacular parks, but the adults who do so typically come from the lower half of the socioeconomic spectrum. They are recent urban migrants, racial or ethnic minorities, or young adults: people whom the official population might disparagingly categorize as working-class, lowbrow, redneck, or merely adolescent. They often have access to a car — most often a used car.

For these people, the vernacular park is not the covertly transformed nature of official parks, but brazenly commodified nature. The experience of nature goes hand in hand with buying, collecting, and using nature.

… the vernacular park is not a sacred realm, but a scenic backdrop for ordinary and everyday activities, many of which ignore nature altogether. Hester and McNalley [of the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection, 1988] found that park users felt automobiles, trucks, loud radios, or a motorboat (in the case of water) were usually considered essential: park use could mean such mundane activities as fixing an automobile transmission or watching television.

[line break added] Throughout the United States, vernacular park use for teenagers can consist of having a drinking party or just hanging out. The nearer a vernacular park area is to the center of the city, the more likely its daytime social promenade will include waxing one’s car in the shade while potential admirers cruise by on the nearby road.

… In popular vernacular parks, seemingly random parking along the roadside and among the trees blurs the conceptual boundaries between road, parking lot, and park. Inside even Yosemite National Park (as official a park as one could find), the parking lots are dramatic in and of themselves and often see more pleasurable social activity than the hiking trails.

… Vernacular and official parks may be inherently contradictory; if so, we must ensure that park programs are pluralistic enough to allow both traditions. We must also find ways to mitigate the ecological damage of the vernacular traditions without undermining them with official control.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




Older Posts »

Blog at WordPress.com.