Unreal Nature

March 31, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… I am not any longer when I see.

This is from the essay ‘Playing the Stars’ found in Telling Time: Essays of a Visionary Filmmaker by Stan Brakhage (2003):

… I was recently accused of having a “love/hate relationship” with ‘the movies,’ because of my occasional diatribes against the dominance of narrative-dramatic movie-making above all else … and because it is also well-known that I attend the movies regularly with great enthusiasm. This accusation is just the old “love America or leave it” line of thought used to stifle any and every critique.

[line break added] It is not, ever, the movies I hate (nor love either, for that matter!) : my angers are reserved for those who so little recognize the wonder inherent in this medium that they’d inhibit its evolution, both in default to video representation and in human thought — (my affection’s then reserved for those who would expect much of the medium, who’d carefully nurture that which is innate to it, and who would encourage humans to understand the particular magic Film is as distinct from every other art or charm of nature we know).

The first ‘movie’ might be said to have been the extreme slow motion of shifting star configurations which shepherds watched and chronicled from generation to generation, these night-watchers reading cartoon shapes into clusters of stars and passing on, father to son, the gradually evolving stories of the gods, [and] soforth.

[line break added] The infinite ‘abstractions’ of this vast outdoor ‘movie’ were, and still are, a prime source for expanding human consciousness; but that which is terrified by The Infinite did, and does, insist upon reducing all light display into Narrative Dramatic form (with, as Aristotle finally froze it, “… beginning, middle and ending”).

Next is from ‘Credo’:

… The full evolution of Gertrude Stein’s answer to Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” is” I am because my little dog knows me” (which actually begins in her childhood with the nursery rhyme from Mother Goose, the dog who doesn’t know his mistress because she’s changed her dress somesuch) and is evolved from her 1929 “What is a sentence for if I am I then my little dog knows me. Even if it is all tenderness” (“Saving The Sentence”/ How to Write), through to her simplicity of “I am I because my little dog knows me,” through to her deceptively simple doubts that she “was not sure but that only proved the dog was he and not that I was I,” to the extraordinary:

I am not any longer when I see.
This sentence is at the bottom of all creative activity.
It is just the opposite of I am I because my little dog knows me.
[from Four in America]

… through to Identity A Poem; “I am I because my little dog knows me. The figure wanders on alone.”

My previous post from Brakhage’s book is here.




March 30, 2018

What You Tasted When You Licked Your Lips a Certain Day at a Certain Place

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… The consciousness of what is behind you when you are looking at a scene plays a large part in the enjoyment of what is in front of you.

This is from Selections from the Journals of Myron Stout edited by Tina Dickey (2005):


[ … ]

… The fact is, of course, that though their purpose is not just to communicate as forms (as a form representing a pitcher communicates the idea of a pitcher) but to assemble into an order. So it is not the forms which become the function of the painting, but their manner of assembling into an order, a totality, the totality becoming expressive of a resolved process.

… You must get used to your painting’s having certain minor faults which you have to sustain in the painting (for they hold the germ of some virtue that you want) while you work on other faults which are either greater or more at the core of your central idea. If you succumb to them (those minor faults) and worry with them, they can block you far too long and slow up your work terribly.

[line break added] I frequently find it impossible to go into a certain part of the canvas in order to advance the whole picture, no matter how badly that particular part needs to be brought into the general accord, until at a certain point I am sufficiently irritated by it (with an immediate background of some unknown, unconscious satisfactions with other parts (and the whole) which makes its development the logical next movement) so that I can begin working in it with ease and confidence.

[line break added] It’s strange how, until this moment is reached, it’s almost physically impossible to touch it; repeated tries fail of themselves — the brush turns this or that way which you don’t intend: you cannot go through the physical process of covering the area.

… The shape of a broken eggshell, the smell of a damp place, the sight of a rag in the gutter, the feel of the touch of some surface, the sound of someone saying a single word, a word itself and alone, what you tasted when you licked your lips a certain day at a certain place. … It’s not just that these feelings have become single facts in your existence — there’s not a one which exists alone, there’s some strange and inexpressive set of relationships. They are tied together in such an intertwining maze of knots and loopings over and under that not even the greatest patience could ever trace their directions.


[ … ]

… In surveying art historically, we heave a sigh of relief when we find Giotto finally appearing, but we shouldn’t blame his predecessors for our annoyance. In history, as in ourselves, we have to wait. We can’t really force the spirit. If we are sensitive enough, we can find within ourselves germs of possibility, but we can never recognize, select and plant the seed, and cultivate the plant through to its fruition. All we can do is, by being sensitive enough, feel the seed’s presence, try to recognize it, and when we see it has put out a shoot, allow for it, and perhaps be amazed at what we have grown.

… The consciousness of what is behind you when you are looking at a scene plays a large part in the enjoyment of what is in front of you.

To be continued.




March 29, 2018

At the Heart of This Modermism

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

We do not as a social body choose explicitly a new set of values.
Instead we submit to them by the very act of dwelling in them …

This is from ‘The Hidden Structures of Art’ (1993) found in Robert Irwin: Notes Toward a Conditional Art edited by Matthew Sims (2011, 2017):

[… ]

The populist argument against modernism has always centered on
the loss of the beloved figure to modernism’s so-called “abstractions.”
The mistake in this kind of thinking is in treating humanism and the human figure
as one and the same. On the contrary, in this shift in form
something more profound than a simple shift in style has taken place.
The abstract sign, human-figure, has been replaced
by an expanded responsibility for the individual artist/observer
as actively charged with completing the full intent of the work of art —

To compound this argument:
in art the term humanism is most critically linked
with the difficult concept of creativity —
an idea which means absolutely nothing
if in fact the individual does not, at least in part,
act directly in setting in motion his or her own meaning.
It is precisely here, in raising up the level of self-determination,
that the artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
so distinguished the art of the present from the art of the past
that an unprecedented need for an extended definition for art — modern —
was required. This transference of responsibility
to the individual observer to complete the work of art
is the implicit meaning integral to so-called abstraction.

At the heart of this modernism
is a new concept of time and determined relations as being continuous
rather than incremental; inclusive rather than exclusive.

[ … ]

As artists, the one true inquiry as a pure subject
is an inquiry of our potential to know the world around us
and our actively being in it, with a particular emphasis on the aesthetic.
This world is not just somehow given to us whole.

[ … ]

We do not as a social body choose explicitly a new set of values.
Instead we submit to them by the very act of dwelling in them:
first by creating them, and then in the process of adapting them
through practices that can clearly be seen to enhance our lives.

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




March 28, 2018

The World Changes When You Stare Straight At It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… the sensitivities of the people doing the looking are clearly very different.

This is from ‘Up Periscope! : Photography and the Surreptitious Image’ by Simon Baker, found in Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870 edited by Sandra S. Phillips (2010):

… We start with two distinctly different photobooks made in urban centers … : Ilya Ehrenburg’s My Paris and Bill Brandt’s Camera in London. My Paris, published in Moscow in 1933 by a Russian communist writer who had been based in Paris for many years, is open and honest from the outset, with Ehrenburg on its cover using a camera with a lateral (sideways) viewfinder.

… Chapter one of My Paris is called “The Lateral Viewfinder” and begins with a close-up of the camera itself, and the following words (which are worth quoting at length):

A writer knows that to see people, he must remain unseen. The world changes when you stare straight at it: cowards become heroes, and heroes puppets. This second world can be studied in the shop window of any provincial photographer: the frozen pupils, the feelings combed back like hair, and that undemanding game which none can resist. … But what’s one to do with a camera? A camera is clumsy and crude. It meddles insolently in other people’s affairs. The lens scatters a crowd like the barrel of a gun.

Ehrenburg catches everywhere in the crosshairs of his “periscope.”

… In Ehrenburg’s hands — as with now-better-known exponents of the lateral viewfinder such as Walker Evans and Ben Shahn — the surreptitious ninety-degree gaze was a way of reaching and recording a deep social truth, looking into the heart of a city that beat behind its well-ordered parks, shop windows,a nd even the “feelings combed back like hair” of its inhabitants.

[line break added] With its author committed to an abrasive and unsentimental view of the decadent and iniquitous capital of Western Europe framed by both the radical revolutionary politics of the Soviet Union and an awareness of its human cost, Ehrenburg’s Paris had simply to be unmasked, photographed without her make-up.

… Back in Europe in 1949, the German-born but London-based photographer Bill Brandt published his own vision of the city he had lived in for many years under the title Camera in London.

Brandt was notorious for his skill in setting up and posing what appear to the viewer to be entirely spontaneous and “natural” scenes. What is most remarkable about Camera in London, however, beyond its value as a record of London in the 1930s and 1940s, and the evident quality of Brandt’s work, is the commentary provided within the book on exactly how Brandt made pictures with titles like Making it up or Having it out,

[line break added] photographs that appear to show candid and intimate scenes but were in fact often carefully staged, almost cinematic mises -en-scenes: Having it out, for example, previously captioned “Street Scene” in Brandt’s 1938 book A Night in London, is now known as “Ester and Rolf Brandt,” in acknowledgement of the fact that the models were, in fact, the photographer’s sister-in-law and brother.

[ … ]

… [Philip-Lorca] diCorcia worked by carefully staking out a chosen site and planting his zoom-lens camera and a series of powerful, carefully directed flashes in such a way that he could take the picture without being detected by his subjects.

… in Heads, diCorcia focused solely on their faces, picking them out with a powerful spotlight flash that leaves the surrounding space strikingly dark (almost night-like) by contrast. The resulting photographs are alluring but disturbing, as one might expect from what are essentially completely candid and natural portraits of individuals who were utterly oblivious (and perhaps would have been resistant) during the process of their making.

DiCorcia’s work, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been discussed in relation to Charles Baudelaire’s poem “À une passante” (To a Passerby) of 1857, in which the writer singles out a beautiful grieving woman in a crowd as the focus of his desire. But while the logic of picking a face from the throng remains apposite, the sensitivities of the people doing the looking are clearly very different.

[line break added] Baudelaire’s romantic gaze is driven by a longing for emotional engagement, while diCorcia exploits and reflects the impossible riddle of voyeuristic looking: the fact that, as Ehrenburg put it, the world changes when you stare at it. At their most striking and most powerful, then, diCorcia’s Heads relate not to the poetic vision of Baudelaire, but to a more equivocal, alienated, and ambiguous form of spectatorship.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




March 27, 2018

Residual Doubt

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… the symbiotic relationship between the materials chosen, with their specific qualities and limitations, and the techniques employed to exploit and challenge those attributes is often the crucible of creativity, frustrating and inspiring in equal measure.

This is from the essay ‘The Arrogance of Intervention: Restoring the Unfinished’ by Michael Gallagher found in Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible (2016):

… In 2003 Sir Timothy Clifford, the Director General of the National Galleries of Scotland, where I worked as Keeper of Conservation, proposed that in preparation for a forthcoming exhibition, “The Age of Titian,” I should conserve the small, unfinished panel The Virgin and Child with Saint Andrew and Saint Peter.

[line break added] The painting’s initial attribution to the Venetian artist Cima da Conegliano, a gifted pupil of Giovanni Bellini, had been questioned for some time; however, the issue of authorship was not principally what lay behind the proposal but rather a feeling that the painting simply appeared uncared for. Surface grime, splits in the panel support and later abrasion and flaking of the paint surface had been left unrestored, and it was felt that these obvious condition issues “muddied the waters” in any attempt to discriminate between a lack of completion, wear, and damage.

[line break added] Certainly the painting’s appearance was markedly at odds with what could be seen in the rest of the collection. Consequently I set about removing surface grime, consolidating the woodworm-damaged support, and filling cracks and losses. I then undertook a limited but scrupulous campaign of retouching. I suppressed the many tiny, obvious flake losses and, under magnification, retouched obvious areas of abrasion.

[line break added] The decisions on the whole were relatively easy to make, and, within the framework of giving precedence to the artist’s intact original paint, they were objective. The result was a quieter work, its qualities more easily assessed and its appearance more in keeping with the level of care rightly expected of a national collection.

However, there remained for me a residual doubt about what had actually been achieved, or possibly lost, in aesthetic terms as a result of the treatment. The goals of the treatment had been to reduce the distracting visual chatter of damage, thereby bringing greater clarity to the various levels of finish — fully executed, underpainted, drawn, or barely indicated — and to permit a more thoughtful analysis of the parts. Yet had the act of “tidying up” a relatively minor but evocative work in some way compromised its allure and robbed it of its chance to beguile visitors?

… These philosophical layers come into particularly sharp focus during conservation due to the need to deal in a very direct and immediate way with the actual materiality of the work of art. Unfinished paintings, in particular, exemplify the imperative to try to understand those layers, but also highlight the inescapable role of subjectivity in conservation and treatment.

[ … ]

… Jacapo Bassano’s last great work, The Baptism of Christ, was also unfinished at his death. I first encountered the painting in a monographic exhibition at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 1993. Impressed by the command of narrative and charming incidental details in his earlier works, and smitten by their ravishing depiction of surface texture and elegant distortions of form, I sadly bypassed this truly remarkable late painting, which left me cold.

[line break added] I found it too unresolved, too raw. Its extraordinary power eluded me. Thankfully, time and experience change us, maturing our responses and perceptions, and by the time, almost twenty years later, the painting had been put on loan at the Met as a promised gift, I found Bassano’s mediation on resignation and sacrifice profoundly moving.

[line break added] The case for cleaning the painting stemmed from the presence of an extremely discolored varnish and coarse and excessive overpainting that covered large areas of intact original paint. There also remained the intriguing question of whether this work was truly unfinished or whether its non finito style had led to false conclusions. These were compelling reasons to pursue treatment. However, perhaps the doubts once raised by the small panel in Edinburgh were the cause of my initial hesitation to undertake the conservation.

[line break added] Could the removal of those extraneous, distorting layers reveal a work that had been irredeemably diminished by time and previous misguided interventions? Could the brutal recognition of the actual state of the picture, and the ethical limitations on addressing issues of compensation, obliterate the poetry of something only partially visible and therefore only partially comprehended?

In the end, following a number of exploratory tests, the decision was reached to proceed with the cleaning. The results exceeded our expectations, and the picture emerged as a poignant document of Bassano’s artistic and, apparently, spiritual preoccupations at the end of his life. The work is indeed unfinished, but the artist’s ardent concentration on communicating the emotional core of the scene seems to create a work that is wholly complete.

Bassano’s early skill with narrative remains, though here it feels so condensed as to carry the heat of a brand. His sensual response to material is also evident, but now it is the paint itself rather than to what it mimics. The vital union of means and meaning is particularly in evidence because it is impossible to think of this painting being created in any other way.

[line break added] The oil medium permits direct and expressive brushwork, rich texture, and constant revision, while the dark ground, favored by Bassano in his later years, encourages color to read as light and underpins the rapid creation of form and volume. Finally, the canvas itself, gently resisting the pressure applied, supports the thick impasto and heightens awareness of the movement of the brush as the paint catches on its woven surface.

This painting is an eloquent reminder that the symbiotic relationship between the materials chosen, with their specific qualities and limitations, and the techniques employed to exploit and challenge those attributes is often the crucible of creativity, frustrating and inspiring in equal measure.

It is this interdependency that unfinished works allow us to see with such immediacy. It demands our respect. And for the conservator, charged with the material care of the work of art, it is also a sobering caution against the potential arrogance of intervention.

My previous post from this book is here.




March 26, 2018

Real Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… I don’t use illusion …

This is from the first Robert Ryman interview (1986) found in Robert Storr: Interviews on Art edited by Francesca Pietropaolo (2017):

[ … ]

Robert Ryman: … the bottom line is the work itself. When you see it, it has to stand up alone without any talking, without anything else. That’s the final test. … If the painting stands up in the quiet, if that happens, then it’s fine.

Robert Storr: Of course we’re violating that principle by talking, but what kind of criteria do you use when deciding if a painting stands on its own?

RR: Well, it’s difficult to pinpoint what causes that. There are many criteria. The one quality that I look for and I think is in all good painting is that it has to look as if no struggle was involved. It has to look as if it was the most natural thing — it just happened and you don’t have to think about how it happened. It has to look very easy even though it wasn’t. [laughs]

[line break added] I think anyone who doesn’t paint or hs never painted cannot understand how difficult it is to do. But, if it’s a good painting, it should just seem like the easiest thing in the world. Paintings that are not so good don’t have that immediacy, that sureness, that right feeling. It’s difficult to say what it is that makes a painting that way or not. I don’t know how to explain it. Maybe I don’t know myself exactly what makes a painting good.

RS: But it is something one recognizes as absolute?

RR: Yes, definitely. It’s not strictly subjective. There is such a thing as quality and you can recognize it. And, it doesn’t have to be something you’ve seen before. It can be something different from what you know but you will have that response. But there is never a formula. It’s a genuineness that has to be achieved, and I don’t know how you go about that exactly. It comes out in the work, or not.

[line break added] It comes partly — but not entirely — from experience, from trials. Working problems out over and over, working with mediums and so forth, until you become very familiar with the approach that you’ve chosen and finally the focus of what it is that you’re interested in, what it is that you want to get. It has to do with seeing and perception — all of that. I don’t know how anyone could ever explain it. [laughs]

[ … ]

RS: … do you think that abstract painting requires an obvious physical or optical dynamism in order to assert itself?

RR: You mean a subject matter sort of thing? No. Only if it’s approached from a picture-making painting approach. But that’s just one aspect of painting. If you approach painting as a realist — which is my way, though I wouldn’t normally be termed a realist [laughs] — it doesn’t need the other at all.

[ … ]

RS: If you separate a notion of subject matter from that of content — pictures have subject matter and abstractions do not — what then is the content of abstract painting?

RR: Well, it’s the painting itself and the environment. It’s all that you see, all that’s involved in the painting — everything. The surface, light and structure, movement and composition — that’s it. If a painting is not telling some kind of a story or hasn’t any representational aspect, then it doesn’t need it. It is completely unnecessary. I think that people generally have a hard time understanding or experiencing that because they’re not used to seeing painting in that way.

[line break added] They want to look into painting, they want some kind of a message to come from it. Of course the message is there in the realist approach too, but it’s a different kind of a message. It’s a kind of a message that you get from the other painting after you’ve stumbled over the story, after you’ve gotten through that to the real experience of the work. It’s not necessary that a representational message be there. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be.

RS: Then what kind of message are you thinking of when you work? What is it that a painting communicates to the viewer?

RR: An experience of … enlightenment. An experience of delight, and well-being, and rightness. It’s like listening to music. Like going to the opera and coming out of it and feeling somehow fulfilled — that what you experienced was extraordinary. It sustained you for a while. You can’t explain it to someone who did not experience it. You can say they played this and they did that, but it won’t make any sense at all. That’s not what it was about.

[line break added] It was about this experience of delight and fulfillment that was achieved. … I think probably that’s the only thing that painting is about. Everything else about it; the why of it, the what, and when; the technical aspect of it is interesting and necessary to a deeper understanding. But that’s not the primary purpose or goal of the painting. The primary experience is that experience that you receive of enlightenment.

From a second interview, six years later:

[ … ]

RS: You’ve described yourself as a realist and that is a surprising label, given what people generally mean by realist. I wonder if you can describe what you mean by it.

RR: I understand the terms that are generally used in discussing painting — realism, abstraction and so on. It’s just that when I really think about these terms and about how I approach my painting they don’t really seem to say what it is that I do. I use a real approach, real light; I don’t use illusion, symbolism; I don’t use representational elements. In my work there is no illusion of abstracting from something that we know. And the surface is real. There is no illusion of light built into the painting but the painting reacts to real light, absorbing it and reflecting it depending on the type of surface employed.

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




March 25, 2018

And All the Degrees of Degradation to Which this Love Lends Itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:37 am

… the New and Renewal are peaks of human life …

This is from Time & the Other (and additional essays) by Emmanuel Levinas translated by Richard A. Cohen (1979):

… Since Heidegger we are in the habit of considering the world as an ensemble of tools. Existing in the world is acting, but acting in such a way that in the final account action has our own existence for its object. Tools refer to one another to finally refer to our care for existing. In turning on a bathroom switch we open up the entire ontological problem.

[line break added] What seems to have escaped Heidegger — if it is true that in these matters something might have escaped Heidegger — is that prior to being a system of tools, the world is an ensemble of nourishments. Human life in the world does not go beyond the objects that fulfil it. It is perhaps not correct to say that we live to eat, but it is no more correct to say that we eat to live. The uttermost finality of eating is contained in food.

[line break added] When one smells a flower, it is the smell that limits the finality of the act. To stroll is to enjoy the fresh air, not for health but for the air. These are the nourishments characteristic of our existence in the world. It is an ecstatic existence — being outside oneself — but limited by the object.

Next is from the “additional” essay, The Old and the New (1980):

That the New and Renewal are peaks of human life, that one can define the human by the desire for the new and by the capacity for renewal — is perhaps a basic truth, but a truth. One desires renewal, independently of any error committed, unless the pure persistence of the Same is not already an error. One loves the new, whatever the distrust studium rerum novarum, the worry about fashion, the search for originality at any price — and all the degrees of degradation to which this love lends itself — can inspire in our natural conservatism, which, precisely, would merely be natural and nature in us.




March 24, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… As the mind is tickled, it puns …

This is from the essay ‘About Time’ found in Telling Time: Essays of a Visionary Filmmaker by Stan Brakhage (2003):

Poet Charles Olson, chafing under Ezra Pound’s racism (during that period when Olson was visiting almost daily at St. Elizabeth’s, the asylum where Pound, judged insane, was being held without trial) finally confronted the elderly poet with the possibility that the name “Olson” might have Semitic roots. To his horror, Pound took him seriously and asked his wife Dorothy to check “the books” and see if she could find some branch of Jewishness which, perhaps, veered off into Sweden and slurred itself into “ol,” “ole!” or “Ol’s son” somesuch.

Youthful Olson, cat/mousing it with his mentor, then found himself in a ‘no-win’ situation, finally deciding to take what seemed the lesser risk of this anti-Semitic game and declare his intent as a gentle ‘leg-pull’ or joke. Pound was not amused, dismissed Olson as persona non grata, and ever afterwards referred to him as “that Swedish Yid.”

The very afternoon of his dismissal, returning to his room in a state of dejection, Olson had a dream in which Pound appeared to him and gave him (what was to be a major cornerstone of Olson’s aesthetic) the following:

Of rhythm is image.
Of image is knowing
And of knowing there is a construct.

What does it mean?

… It is imagery-as-movement which rhythm invokes, as distinct from such symbols as “Stop,” “Go,” and so forth. The mind’s flow of (thus) moving images, transformative images which are metamorphosing and (thereby) reflective of the sensed ‘world,’ is (as Olson’s dream has it) designate of “knowing”; and of knowing IS there, then, such a ‘full stop’ as the word “construct,” thusly rhythmed, would suggest?

[line break added] Yes!, because “construct” is an ‘end tempo’ in that rhythm pattern — and one with metaphorical bounce inasmuch as “construct” (as distinct from the word “construction”) strongly implies the mnemonic end-process of coming-into-existence, therefore of movement of Time, then/therefore timing; but it is verbal (despite the prefix “a”) and ‘slides loose of ‘ becoming a noun, a sign, symbol, soforth — and there-to-fore, does clash its two-syllables, in the thought patterns of reading, so as to reverberate back/forth across the dream poem itself to reverse the imagined continuity of coming-to a construction.

Any two-syllable word, carefully placed in the poem, can thus reverberate (with rhythmical enjambment of its syllables) for invocation of Time, for tripping backwards down Memory Lane, for the natural reflectivity of the human brain: “Time” itself, ironically, cannot reverberate unless one stretched it (in the sounding) thus : T i i i i i i i i-ma!, somesuch.

All the great one-syllable conceptuals, such as “God,” “Love,” “Hate,” “I,” “Thou” are, also then, Timeless — i.e. outside rhythm … (though “Timeless” is not, nor “rhythm” either). “Good” might be seen as an elongation of “God,” to stretch it two syllables for living on earth, say; “Evil,” being “Live” spelled backwards, metaphors contra naturam (“against Nature”) and might have some to that spell out the Bible’s first ‘sin’ / “Eve-ill” which came of / d’The Devil. As the mind is tickled, it puns; and some of these punt for mnemonic reverberation.

“God is Love,” or “I love you,” or similarly ‘dead beat’ weighted phrases are either verging on ‘the timeless’ or are, by stentorian intonation, a heavy Nothing. They do not skip along the page / mind / tongue-animate, as does “trewely she hath the herte in hoold.” They are therefore dependent upon Music to give them Life’s liveliness: “God is Love”, “I … ay! … Loooooooove YOU” — “just you, just you, and nobody else but you … boo, poop-be-do.”




March 23, 2018

Should Not Be Predictable

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:30 am

… took 77 visits to the area, on 62 days …

Final post from Under the Gowanus and Razor-Wire Journal: The making of two paintings 5.9.99 – 11.15.99 by Rackstraw Downes (2000). (The abbreviations for some words are as written in the text.):

[ … ]

9.25.99 … The car that jinxed me yesterday has not moved today. Damn. What a very frustrating life! What a dreary day! The sun was sluggish at peeping out — the car in the way, cldn’t work on the drawing, cldn’t work on the color. But all of a sudden, circa 10:30 a.m., things started to click — I got a couple of colors right, began to get the RR tracks in place — the blue-white of the R-W & the glowing tan. I have to move the cross-bars on the fence radically, & that will change the balance of the 4 images, but one should not be predictable. Anyway, tomorrow that car will probably be in the same place, so I’ll go back & do some more carrying on from where I left off.

[ … ]

9.27.99 … Bad day. Really bad day. As I set up in the gray day spot (free) on a sunny day — well, half sunny, mixed, dull sunlight — rather than the sunny spot (taken), the crew is working at the corner, & there are ‘no parking’ signs along the fence. They are obviously moving towards me. Last time I thought they were Con Ed going down some manhole, or the TA fixing a pothole.

[line break added] But no; they are cleaning all the weeds — my weeds — the full length of the fence. I have, I presume, no choice but to come back later & paint after they pour the sidewalk in cement, whc. will put an end to the weeds. At first I am bereft, I call T. & say ‘It’s my turn to cry!’ It will be painting in the cold & the wind. And the continuity of the weeds will be all gone from the paintings.

[ … ]

10.24.99 … Now alas, so late in the year the sun is getting lower. Instead of shining down on me, it shines at me and blinds me. Hadn’t thought about that. What a bad set-up this razor-wire fence has been, from the parked cars to the heat on the first 2 (summer) pieces — the Sumac & the ‘extra tier’ painting (where there was no shade at all), then the concrete boys came along & now the low sun problem. One mess-up after another. It’s amazing I’ve got as much done as I have.

[ … ]

10.25.99 … Tomorrow they plan to run cement. But they won’t get past my spot. Today, decided to stay on my spot when the guys arrived. They worked around me, left me in peace, didn’t say a word. This is the reward of not being hostile to them, tho’ angry & frustrated inside. There’s more gorgeous razor-wire closer to the last subway stop, piled up like a solid wall & worth looking at or depicting from head-on like a page of calligraphy in silver ink. But how is it accessible? … Maybe there’s more razor-wire fence on the other side of the subway yards. Must explore under that elevated subway, east of the yards. Not finished with razor-wire yet, I feel.

[ … ]

11.1.99 … Here is a true dilemma: this a.m. no fog, very (not super, but very) clear sky, much brighter & bluer than the warm hazy bleached-out wan sun of the last few days. So don’t go overboard crisping things up — keep it down, in the key you established the last 2 days, or you’ll start another war. Essentially, what you have been doing for over a week is taking all the color/tones down into haze & bleached-out softness — softening shadow, light, everything — removing contrast, removing flash.

[line break added] It wasn’t just the sky you were changing. Don’t work for work’s sake. I’m quite ashamed to realize how ridiculously slow my take on the light was here — how little I thought about it, how blindly & undiscriminately I followed it from bright to soft to blue to bleached, & kept wondering why the pntng didn’t go together. I guess the different parts didn’t point these changes up like the very clear, simple ones of the ventilation tower standing in the water did.

[line break added] Now, just guarding my spot & waiting for the sun to move round is all there is for me to do today until 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. Don’t want to bugger up what I’ve so painstakingly got & start a new set of problems. Then on to the gray day pntng. & in search of a new site, new projects, new interiors, new things for next Spring.

[ … ]

11.10.99 Quit 4:30 p.m. A long & desperate day. First the sun sat there, unbelievably warm, kept promising to cloud over but didn’t — warm, mild, soft, hazy sun filtered thru’ very high clouds. It went in around noon & I thought that this was the real genuine gray at last, but it didn’t last: I canceled my attendance at [a meeting and dinner] but then the sun came out again & I wished I hadn’t.

[line break added] Finally, very late the sun really went in & for a last frantic two hours — after I had decided to pack up, had taken the painting off the easel & cleaned up the palette — I could see the colors & contrasts in the razor-wire, including the top & bottom & middle coils. Worked furiously, nearly GOT IT ALL! Can’t believe it. What will it look like when I get home? Tonite, a beer to celebrate. A zillion bugs got stuck to my sky — tiny ones. They must have known it’s all over for them: tonight it’s supposed to get cold: drop 20-25 degrees from today.

[ … ]

11.14.99 … When I got back, there was insufficient glow from the sky through the nearer sections of fence, so I worked on that a bit in the studio & then called it quits. I think it’s OK. Working on the title now in my head — Four Months in the Life of a Razor-Wire Fence. Started on Aug 5, finished Nov 14, comprising 58 visits to the site, including initial drawing phase, i.e. approximately 14 days on each painting of this set.

[ … ]

2.29.2000 Gowanus took 77 visits to the area, on 62 days; (on 15 of those days there was more than one visit).

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




March 22, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… To know its actuality requires our immediate presence, which in effect puts individual experience at the root of our understanding.

This is from ‘Being and Circumstance’ (1985) found in Robert Irwin: Notes Toward a Conditional Art edited by Matthew Sims (2011, 2017):

Radical change in our lives occurs when the methods of our time-worn practices, checked and rechecked, are unable to account for a growing accumulation of instances and questions to the contrary; and we are forced to go deeper (to expose our hidden orthodoxies). For this purpose, we begin in the worst of all places — at the very center of our sophistication as practitioners, enfolded in the layers of our operative (objective) structures, and bathed in the light of their prior successes.

[line break added] This is what is meant by an “existential dilemma.” For holding our questions, we need to attain an uncommitted bare-bones ground where we can ask, “How might it be otherwise?” And to gain this ground, we can only begin by confronting our own beliefs.

… Keep in mind that there is no good reason, as yet, why anyone else should agree with us, let alone change their lives. As imperative as this change may become for us, before we can aspire to move the whole civilization to stand on new and untested grounds … , something more complex and orderly must take place. But make no mistake, for in its proper course, that is what is at stake here. For change at the very base of our understanding will necessitate change in every facet of our lives, even if the implementation of that change may not come for years.

… If we remove the mark, the frame, the object, and the art place (museum, gallery, etc.) as a way of focusing our aesthetic concern and as a means for determining what is art, what then becomes our operative frame of reference for doing so?

And how do we, or can we, now develop a nonhierarchical order?

Certainly, if we are seriously to consider extending the boundaries of art, as non-objective art would have us do, then these are a sampling of the kind of questions handed down by the abstract expressionists that are the legacy for my generation. If we fail to live up to the opportunity they afford, then the whole enterprise of “modern art” can slip back (as it is threatening to do) to its lowest common denominator — individual indulgence pawned off as self-expression.

… In the nonobjective realm of physicality, the “mark’s” being is nontransferable. To know its actuality requires our immediate presence, which in effect puts individual experience at the root of our understanding.

… while nonobjective art was in the beginning cast as the villain by those naïve enough to equate humanity with the human figure, if anything, the opposite is true. The principal contribution of nonobjective art comes in its replacing the abstracted figure with the presence of the specific individual observer acting directly in determining all matters of quality in art (and in life?).

… We now propose to follow the principles of phenomenal, conditional, and responsive art by placing the individual observer in context, at the crux of the determining process, insisting that he or she use all the same (immediate) cues the artist used in forming the art-response to form his or her operative-response (judgments): “Does this ‘piece,’ ‘situation,’ or ‘space,’ make sense? Is it more interesting, more beautiful? How do I feel about it? And what does it mean to me?”

[line break added] Earlier, I made the point that you cannot correctly call anything either free or creative if the individual does not, at least in part, determine his or her own meaning. What applied to the artist now applies to the observer. And in this responsibility of the individual observer we can see the first social implication of a phenomenal art.

Being and circumstance, then, constitute the operative frame of reference for an extended (phenomenal) art activity, which becomes a process of reasoning between our mediated culture (being) and our immediate presence (circumstance).

… The wonder of it all is that what looked for all the world like a diminishing horizon — the art-object’s becoming so ephemeral as to threaten to disappear altogether — has, like some marvelous philosophical riddle, turned itself inside out to reveal its opposite. What appeared to be a question of object/non-object has turned out to be a question of seeing and not seeing, of how it is we actually perceive or fail to perceive “things” in their contexts.

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




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