Unreal Nature

January 30, 2018

People Living Between Earth and Sky

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

Overlay is about what we have forgotten about art.

This is from the Introduction to Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory by Lucy R. Lippard (1983):

… My subject is not prehistoric images in contemporary art, but prehistoric images and contemporary art. What I’ve learned from mythology, archeology, and other disciplines is the overlay’s invisible bottom layer. My internal method is that of collage — the juxtaposition of two unlike realities combined to form an unexpected new reality. I have tried to weave together the ideas and images of very different cultures by making one a metaphor for the other, and vice versa.

… As a contemporary art critic, speculation is my element. I am a surrogate for the audience, a receptacle for all the collective speculations deriving from diverse backgrounds, associations, and psychologies. Like everybody else when confronted with an unfamiliar experience, I ask myself, “What do you suppose it means?” Such ruminations combined with the few available facts are the only source of ‘accuracy’ in a shifting field. There is no such thing as ‘objective’ art criticism, only degrees of longing for objectivity.

… Trekking across the vast, undulating, deceptively featureless landscape of the English moors — depending as much on intuition as on map and compass — sighting a distant silhouette against the sky (sheep? the promised stone circle?), or coming suddenly upon a single standing stone, I was glad there were no markers, no car parks, no brochures, glad to maintain a sense of discovery. The unpeopled megalithic sites and earth monuments, like more recently abandoned ruins, bring us back to art in an unselfconscious context. Freedom from my own daily space opened up new views of history.

… Art itself might be partially defined as an expression of that moment of tension when human intervention in, or collaboration with, nature is recognized. It is sufficiently compelling not to be passed by as part of ‘amorphous nature.’ One stops and asks oneself: Who made this? When? Why? What does it have to do with me?

Overlay is about what we have forgotten about art. It is an attempt to recall the function of art by looking back to times and places where art was inseparable from life.

… The social element of response, of exchange, is crucial even to the most formalized objects or performances. Without it, culture remains simply one more manipulable commodity in a market society where even ideas and the deepest expressions of human emotion are absorbed and controlled. I resist the notion that in modern times the task of image and symbol making should be relegated to one more frill on the ‘quality of life.’

… Unlike a towering skyscraper, a towering standing stone in the landscape seems not so much to dominate its surroundings as to coexist sensuously with them. It confirms the human need to touch, to hold and to make, in relationship to natural forces and phenomena. Even if we as individuals are cut off from any communal belief system or any collective work system, something seems to flow back to us through these places — which we see perhaps as symbols of lost symbols, apprehended but not specifically comprehended in our own socioreligious context.

I’d like this book to suggest the restoration of symbolic possibility in contemporary art. Artists may be aware of this subterranean layer, but the art public (as opposed to the lay public) has been conditioned to ignore it by the dominant art-for-art’s-sake ethos. Symbols are syntheses of changing multiple realities — higher forms than the simple commodity because they are both the vehicles of several levels of reality and of several levels of communal need. Perhaps what the prehistoric stone monuments still communicate is simply people’s need to communicate and the need for a symbolic intermediary that has always allowed the desires of makers and receivers to merge or intersect.

… Nature is considered relaxing. We don’t have to think about it or ‘appreciate’ it; we can just enjoy it. Banal statements about sunsets and lovely views are acceptable, whereas ‘Art’ seems to demand more and give less. It is puzzling, weighted with history and class pretensions. It is ‘man-made,’ and human-made objects must be approached warily, while natural things, though they too can be destructive, are mor simply embraced. Our attitudes toward nature are in turn a major component in the romanticization of ancient sites and artifacts. We tend to confuse our own romanticism about nature with the original purposes of the stones, mounds, and ruins.

Speculation about the close relationship between nature and culture in prehistory is not starry-eyed idealization, nor is it ahistorical fantasizing about a Golden Age. People living between earth and sky, with few human-made distractions, had to be far closer to natural forces and phenomena than people living on our crowded planet now. They were undoubtedly aware of the environment in ways lost to us.




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