Unreal Nature

June 30, 2018

Present Means

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… when an artist pays the closest possible attention to the work as it goes along, it does not escape his attention that the accident may have a place.

This is from the essay ‘Contemporary Styles’ (1959) found in Art in Its Own Terms:Selected Criticism 1935-1975 by Fairfield Porter (1979):

… The new American painting expresses the habit of thinking that what one does is what one is; that a past origin is no more real than its present derivative, and that the significance of future ends is contained in present means. From this it follows that art does not stand for something outside itself.

[line break added] This notion contains the difference between typically American non-objective painting and the European abstraction that preceded it, and also between American non-objective painting and the contemporary European painting that resembles it. Non-objective European painting still either stands for something outside itself or if not, then the painter being used to making symbolic art does not pay close enough attention to the painting before him.

… Except for Burri, the Italians have a common sense of humor that prevents them from taking their art seriously enough. They are like wise clowns inhibited by a knowledge of the vanity of all human effort. The Germans are still under the influence of the Bauhaus idea, and they believe in the supreme importance of the communication of ideas, as if art existed for education’s sake, as a guide to the good life. As ideas in German have a concreteness that they lack in any other language, so in abstract German painting the details embody general ideas and the painting as a whole is something that can be taught rather than experienced.

… when an artist pays the closest possible attention to the work as it goes along, it does not escape his attention that the accident may have a place. (When Japanese painters copy this characteristic look in American painting, the effect is that of putting artificial worm holes in new furniture.) The organic use of accident, that is, the attentive use of it from following the painting as Shaw said a playwright must follow the characters, makes painting as art relate in a new way to painting as labor and to its function as a protection against the weather. American non-objective painting is playful about work.




June 29, 2018

Densely Motivated Choice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… a close and detailed and practical means, to register, as well as chance to renew, to vary the terms — the flavor — of her engagement …

Continuing through This Little Art by Kate Briggs (2017):

… I think of Renee Gladman, poet, novelist and translator, asking her interviewer in an interview: ‘When you’re reading translations, don’t you sometimes feel the racing heartbeat of the translator trying to get shit right?’

[ … ]

… We need translations. The world, the English-speaking world, needs translations. Clearly and urgently it does; we do. And this has to be a compelling argument for doing them.

But, I wonder: is it really for the world that the translator translates?
Primarily, I mean? Straightforwardly?

The translator takes the world by the back of the head. She leans in, pulling the English-speaking world in with her. She goes brow to brow with the world. And with breath hot and earnest against its face she says: Look, world, I am doing this for you.

Is that how it goes?

[ … ]

… what literature knows a great deal about, what it knows very expansively and the most about (more, indeed, than any other discipline) is ‘the great mess of language, upon which men work and which works upon them.’ It knows about words, and of their flavor. It matters to Barthes that the French words for flavor (saveur) and for knowledge (savoir) should share the same Latin root. He goes on: ‘Curnonski [a celebrated writer on gastronomy] used to say that in cooking “things should have the taste of what they are.”

[line break added] Where knowledge is concerned, things must, if they are to become what they are, what they have been, have that ingredient, the salt of words. It is this taste of words which makes knowledge profound, fecund.’ Working with the taste of words — with how different words in different languages taste differently — the translator is dealing, always then, with knowledge, with the mess of different and potential knowledges of the world, upon which we work and act and which act and work upon us. In this sense, I realize, she is not altogether apart from — she hasn’t delayed her involvement with — the world.

[line break added] On the contrary, the project of translating a book written by someone else, somewhere else, in a different language (this book right now over any other, never a neutral, but, as Lawrence Venuti puts it, always ‘a very selective, densely motivated choice’) is already and in and of itself a means, a close and detailed and practical means, to register, as well as chance to renew, to vary the terms — the flavor — of her engagement with it.

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




June 28, 2018

If I Go Further

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… If I go further, it would take away something, or do something, that would throw me off the track.

This is from Jan Butterfield’s 1975 interview titled ‘Bruce Nauman: The Center of Yourself’ found in Please Pay Attention Please: Bruce Nauman’s Words: Writings and Interviews edited by Janet Kraynak (2003):

[ … ]

Jan Butterfield: I am interested in examining some of your attitudes about “art.” There has to be some common ground, some societal overlap for pieces to be “visible” to others besides yourself. How little of that can we have and still have an “art form,” rather than individual exercise on your part? I am interested in determining whether or not you are conscious of where the boundaries are.

Bruce Nauman: Not consciously. I don’t necessarily think consciously aware. I am sure that I think about that, and would really like to be working at the edge of that. What I am really concerned about is what art is supposed to be — and can become. It seems to me that painting is not going to get us anywhere, and most sculpture is not going to either, and art has to go somewhere.

[line break added] What I see now is interesting. I think that the overlap (the societal overlap you were talking about) is the part we see now. It may seem familiar, and at some point we may be able to look back and say, “Well at some point we saw an overlap, and that was wrong — the important part was way out there somewhere.” Do you see what I mean? This thing about obscurity?

[line break added] Everybody is going about looking for what is going to be “next” in terms of art, and it will probably turn out that it is something that has been going on all of the time. It’s just that we have tunnel vision. We are looking at the wrong part of it, or too small a part of it, and we are missing all of that stuff going on out there — at the edges.

[ … ]

JB: … I think the control factor is a very interesting aspect of your work.

BN: I think that if you can control the situation physically, then you can have a certain amount of similarity. People are sufficiently similar so that you can have at least a similar kind of experience. But, certainly, the private thing can change the experience a great deal in some ways, and I don’t expect to be able to control that. But, on the other hand, I don’t like to leave things open so that people feel they are in a situation they can play games with.

JB: Why not?

BN: Whey do I not like to do that? Well, I think I am not really interested in game playing. Partly it has to do with control, I guess.

JB: That obviously is a key factor in your work: you are not simply setting up an “it is” situation.

BN: Well, some of the pieces have to do with setting up a situation and then not completing it; or in taking away a little of the information so that somebody can only go so far, and then can’t go any farther. It attempts to set up a kind of tension situation. I think it has to do with a personal fear of exposing myself. I can only give so much. If I go further, it would take away something, or do something, that would throw me off the track. We all go so far that we have the fear of exposing ourselves. We really want to expose the information, but, on the other hand, we are afraid to let people in.




June 27, 2018

Our Contemporary Imaginative Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… The images presented here are deeply embedded in the fabric of our daily existence and an integral part of our contemporary imaginative life.

This is from the essay ‘The Creative Treatment of Narrative’ by Jan Baetens found in Theatres of the Real (2009). This book features the photographs of Sarah Dobai, Annabel Elgar, Tom Hunter, Sarah Pickering, Nigel Shafran, Clare Strand, Mitra Tabrizian, and Danny Treacy:

… Storytelling — the ‘creative treatment of actuality’ [John Grierson] — is no longer the ideal of contemporary documentary. From the works gathered in Theatres of the Real one might even infer that the narrative is seen as a menace to all serious intents of disclosing the real. For if narrative and storytelling help the spectator to make sense of the real, this sense is always biased, it reflects the strong editorial intervention of the maker and thus a veiling rather than an unveiling of reality.

[line break added] This deeply rooted distrust of narrative as an instrument of deception, manipulation, propaganda and spin-doctoring, is what bridges the gap between modernist and postmodernist forms of critical photography. What is different are the means that are used, what is similar is the goal. Modernist critical documentary, like the one illustrated by pioneers such as August Sander and Robert Capa, refused the crutch of storytelling in the hope of showing things as they were.

[line break added] Postmodern critical documentary, as showcased in Theatres of the Real, exhibits and even exaggerates all setting, staging, re-enactment and storytelling devices, but in the hope of short-circuiting them. Both strategies are of course utopian: modern critical photography can’t escape completely from storytelling, just as postmodern critical photography can’t block its narrative interpretations.

Next is from ‘Constructing the Real: Staged Photography and the Documentary Tradition’ by David Green in this same book:

… Much of the recent discussion concerning the staged photograph has tended to situate it in either of two ways: firstly, by privileging its art historical credentials through a comparison to a pictorial lineage within painting; or, secondly, via comparison to the myriad forms of contemporary photographic culture such as fashion or advertising but most especially cinema.

[line break added] Both are legitimate and highly productive ways of beginning to analyse the significant turn within contemporary fine art photographic practice towards the constructed image and may indeed be useful when applied to many of the works represented here. Yet within these domains the blurring of the boundaries between fact and fiction, between reality and artifice, between the authentic and the contrived, has never been problematic. The case of the relationship between the staged photograph and the documentary mode has historically been more complex.

… The reconstitution of the concerns of the documentary mode made possible through its re-contextualization in the domain of art may question the assumption of photography’s objectivity and with it a certain model of truth that it embodies, but it does not surrender its claims to address the world in which we live. The images presented here are deeply embedded in the fabric of our daily existence and an integral part of our contemporary imaginative life. Engaging with the narratives they tell is the prelude to forms of social agency that have always been central to the ambitions of documentary.




June 26, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:33 am

… Any statement linking two descriptive statements is an hypothesis.

This is from the segment ‘To Know and to Let Know: An Applied Theory of Knowledge’ by Heinz von Foerster (1979) found in Systems: Documents of Contemporary Art edited by Edward A. Shanken (2015):

… How does one recognize a constructivist? Very easily. If you were to ask one whether something, say, a formula, a notion, an object, order, symmetry, a taxonomy, laws of nature, etc. etc. is discovered or invented, a constructivist would tend to say invented. Moreover, if hard pressed, a constructivist would even say that the world as we know it is our invention. Since whatever we invent is our responsibility, the constructivist position contains the seed for an ethic.

I realize that I might not easily get away with such far out propositions. I will therefore muster whatever help I can get. [ … ] Let me read a charming vignette written by Gregory Bateson. He packed a lot of epistemology into a minimal space by using the literary device of a dialogue between a precocious daughter and her father. He called them ‘Metalogues.’ I shall give you, along with some of my comments, the one entitled ‘Metalogue: what is an instinct?’

Daughter: Daddy what is an instinct?

Let me interrupt by asking you to stop and think how you would have answered your daughter’s (or son’s) question. I would have proudly come up with a lexical definition: ‘An instinct, my dear, is the innate aspect of behaviour that is unlearned, complex, etc. etc. … ‘ Since the daughter could have found this kind of answer in any dictionary, her father reframes the context of the question by ignoring the semantic significance of the word ‘instinct’ and shifts to its functional (even political!) significance when used by one partner in a dialogue:

Father: An instinct, my dear, is an explanatory principle.

Let me pause again and invite you to reflect on the question of whether a library could accommodate the contextual switch demonstrated by the father. I consider this transition from a monological to a dialogical situation of the greatest importance, and I shall return to this later. Now let us hear what the daughter has to say to this answer.

D: But what does it explain?
F: Anything, almost anything at all. Anything you want it to explain.

Please note that something that explains almost anything at all, most likely explains nothing at all.The daughter senses this:

D: Don’t be silly, It doesn’t explain gravity.
F: No, but that is because nobody wants instinct to explain gravity. If they did it would explain it. We would simply say that the moon has an instinct whose strength varies inversely as the square of the distance, and so on and so on.
D: But that’s nonsense, Daddy.
F: Yes, surely, but it was you who mentioned instinct, not I.

I shall not interrupt the dynamics of this dialogue any more but I ask you to pay attention to the father’s consistent reference to descriptions of observations and not to the observations per se (e.g. ‘ … if you say … there was a full moon …’ and not ‘… if there was a full moon …’ etc.). Most likely you [the audience], as librarians, would have caught this anyway. Well, here we go.

D: But what does explain gravity?
F: Nothing, my dear, because gravity is an explanatory principle.
D: Oh, do you mean that you cannot use one explanatory principle to explain another — ever?
F: Hum, haw, hardly ever. That is what Newton meant when he said hypothesis non fingo.
D: And what does that mean please?
F: Well, you know what hypotheses are. Any statement linking two descriptive statements is a hypothesis. If you say there was a full moon on 1 February and another on 1 March, and then you link these two observations together in any way, the statement which links them is a hypothesis.
D: Yes, and I know what non means, but what is fingo?
F: Well, fingo is a Latin word for ‘to make.’ It forms a verbal noun, fictio, from which we get the word fiction.
D: Daddy, do you mean that Sir Isaac Newton thought that all hypotheses are just made up like stories?
F: Yes, precisely that.
D: But didn’t he discover gravity? With the apple?
F: No, my dear, he invented it.

The dialogue continues, but I shall stop here because I just wanted you to hear that punchline.

Constructivists would insist that not only do we invent the laws of nature, we construct our own realities. …




June 25, 2018

Hand in Hand with Market Forces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… selecting what is included and excluded is one way in which culture is produced.

Continuing through The Culture of Curating and the Curating of Culture(s) by Paul O’Neill (2012):

… As Andrea Fraser suggests, no matter how immaterial, relational, public or prominent its placement is, “art is art when it exists for discourses and practices that recognize it as art, value and evaluate it as art, and consume it as art, whether as object, gesture, representation, or only idea.”

[line break added] That which is announced as art is always already institutionalized by the system within which it functions simply because it exists within the perception of those involved in the field of art. In other words, “the institution of art is not something external to any work but the irreducible condition of its existence as art.” Without its institution interior to art, there is no art.

As a critical component of the institution of art, the act of curating conveys value to art through its presentation and discussion; thus the curator was seen as a vital insider.

… According to Brian O’Doherty, this awareness of the space around the work had already begun in the 1950s and 1960s when the significance of an individual artwork was determined by the place it was assigned among and alongside other works.

… The curator was thus presented as an “arbiter of taste” whose single-handed selection of artists and artworks was seen as “guaranteeing their omnipotence.” As Liam Gillick wrote in 1992, the act of curating functions “to create a set of mediating factors between the artist and others” through which to view artworks. Yet while the curatorial “contextualizing structures” seem to be innovative approaches to showing art, Gillick continues, in reality curatorial decisions go hand in hand with “market forces and the private gallery.”

… Whichever form exhibitions take, they are also the primary site of exchange in the political economy of art, the point at which “signification is constructed, maintained and occasionally, deconstructed,” where one can “establish and administer meanings of art.”

[line break added] While writing that concentrates solely on display practices within exhibitions at the expense of the works of art comprising them, “can be seen as a crisis in art criticism and its languages,” it is also important to consider that the ephemeral nature of the temporary exhibition often means that the ways in which artworks are experienced are overlooked or remain undocumented and underrepresented. As Staniszewski asserts, selecting what is included and excluded is one way in which culture is produced.

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




June 24, 2018

All It Lacks Is a Germ

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… Its potency is a vitality that is still untamed, a pure nature …

This is from The Philosophy of Simondon: Between Technology and Individuation by Pascal Chabot translated by Aliza Krefetz and Graeme Kirkpatrick (2003):

… The relation does not connect A and B once they have already been constituted. It is operative from the start. It is interior to their being. The relation is not an accidental feature that emerges after the fact to give the substance a new determination. On the contrary: no substance can exist or acquire determinate properties without relations to other substances and to a specific milieu. To exist is to be connected.

[ … ]

… Chaos has no logical positivity of its own. It is not individuated. But Simondon plays time against logic. Rather than expressing it in negative terms, he describes chaos as the ‘not yet.’ The empty glass is not yet full. The chaotic milieu is not yet individuated: it is ‘pre-individual.’ It is awaiting individuation; the necessary energetic conditions have already been met; all it lacks is a germ to initiate the process. In Aristotelian terms, the pre-individual would be potency without action — a pure passivity.

[line break added] But Simondon rejects this terminology: Aristotle gives primacy to the act and defines potency in terms of that which the act is lacking. This conception of potency is framed in terms of logical absence (i.e. negation). And yet, the pre-individual is positive. It is a generative and creative potency. Its potency is a vitality that is still untamed, a pure nature, a physis, a natura naturans. The pre-individual is nature seized at its source, nature still untouched by determination, formless and limitless, but already full of a vitality that will be shaped by determination.

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




June 23, 2018

To Be Initiated into Another Sensibility

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… Unless something particular to our confrontations with these pictures drives us to imagine in the more complex way …

This is from the essay ‘The Spectator in the Picture’ by Robert Hopkins found in Richard Wollheim on the Art of Painting: Art as Representation and Expression edited by Rob van Gerwen (2001):

… There is a superficial but nagging problem concerning the value of pictures qua representations. It stems from the fact that every picture fundamentally conveys the same sort of content. For every picture represents some object or objects, in a suitably broad sense of the term; the properties those objects enjoy; and states of affairs of which those objects form constituents.

… Why should this make problematic our appreciating pictures for their content?

… the problem begins with the question whether pictures can represent anything other than scenes, anything in addition to the features of the world listed above. For if they cannot, one might wonder why we should bother looking at the pictures rather than devoting our visual attention to scenes themselves, either the very scenes the pictures represent if they are available, or scenes suitably similar to those represented.

… [This issue] can be sidestepped if pictures are indeed free to convey contents other than the mere representation of scenes. Consider the situation if, in particular, they can represent scenes along with reactions to them on the part of some implicit observer of the world depicted. These reactions might be of thought or of feeling. They must concern the scene, but might also involve broader currents of ideas or affective disposition. Were this possible, appeal to what a picture represents could readily explain the interest of the picture over the corresponding scene.

[line break added] When we confront scenes face-to-face, while we may react to them ourselves, we never confront a representation of some possible set of reactions. Thus looking at pictures offers, as looking at the things depicted would not, the chance to explore how someone else might react, to be initiated into another sensibility.

Wollheim thinks that some pictures contain an internal spectator, an implied viewer of the depicted scene, through whose eyes we are to see it. His account of quite what this involves is both detailed and illuminating of the aesthetic interest of the phenomenon. So, if right, it provides part of a solution to the problem of pictorial value outlined above. Only part, because Wollheim thinks that only a subset of aesthetically valuable pictures contain internal spectators.

Hopkins is skeptical of the need for imagining an ‘internal spectator’:

… Suppose I ask you to imagine what it is like to be crushed by an enormous weight. You might, I suppose, do this by imagining the experiences of some other person meeting that fate and then imaginatively identifying with the sufferings that person undergoes. But it would be far more natural simply to imagine yourself being crushed. And, I suggest, this is because, quite generally, where an imaginative project requires us to imagine certain experiences, attitudes or actions, we normally imagine ourselves in those situations, rather than someone else in them with whom we then identify.

[line break added] My claim is not that we cannot do the latter. I am not promoting some form of the thesis that imagining necessarily concerns oneself. I claim only that doing what I have described is the default option, that which, as a matter of psychological fact, we go in for unless we are coaxed into doing otherwise.

Given this, we should expect this default to hold when we engage with pictures, and in particular with those pictures Wollheim discusses. There too what we naturally imagine, if we imagine anything of this sort at all, is simply ourselves confronting the depicted object. As I have argued, imagining in this way allows us to reap the benefits, in terms of a deepened understanding of the picture, which form Wollheim’s central concern.

[line break added] So why think that we reap those benefits by any means other than those we standardly deploy when imagining experiences, attitudes, etc. quite generally? Unless something particular to our confrontations with these pictures drives us to imagine in the more complex way Wollheim has described, we will just do what we normally do.

The above seems to contradict Hopkins’s earlier statement: “… looking at pictures offers … the chance to explore how someone else might react, to be initiated into another sensibility.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




June 22, 2018

These Necessary Words in This Necessary Order

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… This is a translation! / Is it?

Continuing through This Little Art by Kate Briggs (2017):

… I’m also very inclined to agree that there’s great value in reading in the original. Perhaps something like the value we recognize and invest in literature. The right words in the right order, as Virginia Woolf puts it so simply in her talk on craftsmanship, delivered over the radio in 1937. These necessary words, in this necessary order.

[line break added] There is literature, arguably, or what we call the literary, when this matters: when we feel like something would be wrong should ever these words or their ordering be changed (if Clarissa Dalloway were to buy gloves and not the flowers herself, for example, as she does in an early draft of the novel). In this sense, literary translation, as a labor of changing words, and changing the orders of words, is always and from the outset wrong: its wrongness is a way of indirectly stressing and restressing the rightness of the original words in their right and original order.

… A translation becomes a translation only when someone (the translator, the publisher, the reader, an institution) declares it to be one; up until that point, writes [Theo] Hermans, the status of her writing is ‘merely another text.’

… [Declaring something to be a translation changes so many things] as in a brilliantly simple and provocative exercise I once observed a student set our translation class. She gave the group an original piece of writing and its translation, but had privately made them swap places. So what we read was an excerpt from a novel originally published in English but presented to us as if it were a translation from the French. Everyone was predictably critical of the English (in other words the original), finding it to be in different ways poorly written, misjudged, mistaken with regards to the rightness of the French (which was actually the translation).

[line break added] Everyone was a bit flushed and affronted, quickly backtracking when the trick of the exercise was revealed. Which suggests that rather than testifying to any identifiable quality of the prose itself, the categories of ‘original’ and ‘translation’ act more like placeholders: ‘original’ and ‘translation’ are the names for the positions we put writing in, and for the histories of writing labor we then assign to them (first-time writing, second-time writing). Positions which can then orientate and determine, in quite striking ways, the way the writing gets read.

[line break added] As in the sequence which closes Anne Carson’s Nay Rather, an essay on translation, where the familiar stops and signs from the London Underground, collected and sequenced, are thereby pronounced a translation of the Greek poet Ibykos’s fragment 286; and, on the facing page, the lines taken and set out from pages 136-7 of Conversations with Kafka by Gustav Janouch are likewise thereby pronounced a translation of that same fragment; and, turning the page again, so too are the words lifted from pages 17-18 of The Owner’s Manual of her new Emerson 1000w microwave oven.

[line break added] Carson calls this — the project of ‘translating a small fragment of ancient Greek lyric poetry over and over again using wrong words’ — not exactly an exercise in translating, nor even an exercise in untranslating, but more like a ‘catastrophizing of translation.’ She also calls it ‘a sort of stammering.’

[ … ]

… This is a translation!

Is it? I feel sure that something would happen — some adjustment to your reading manner would be very likely to occur — if you were to hear me all of a sudden insisting that it is.

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




June 21, 2018

Since the Beginning of Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… art functions as a kind of freedom. … You can invent any idea …

This is from the title essay by Anne Seymour to Richard Long: Walking in Circles (1991):

… One of his first works, done out-of-doors and dating from 1964, consists of a photograph of a snowball and its track. At the beginning of a long line of objects rolled, thrown or kicked this lumpy, rotating, roundish object was created basically of and by itself and its surroundings. It had a specific cycle explicit in the traces of the journey which caused its existence and in the substance from which it was made.

[line break added] This idea of something made of almost nothing, containing both end and beginning simultaneously, as nearly as possible self-begotten, achieved with such simplicity and ease that it is both magic and mysterious, and in the making of which the artist appears to be simply the privileged transmitter, has been part of art since the beginning of time. Richard Long has found a way of using it to make art which reflects the human predicament in the late twentieth century with equal relevance.

… Every path, like every work of art, has a mysterious sense of purpose about it deriving from the traces of energy of its making and the withdrawn presence of that energy.

From ‘Fragments of a Conversation’ these are Long’s own words:

… the tide was out and there was this beautiful bed of wet, soggy, bubbly seaweed on this stony beach, and I made a cross of stones on the seaweed. My idea for a sculpture was just to make a cross of stones on the seabed as the tide went out. When I woke up the next morning and unzipped the tent and looked out over the bay, the tide had come in and instead of seeing my cross of stones I actually saw the image of my work suspended on the surface of the water because the stones were keeping the seaweed down.

[line break added] So that work was made miraculously a lot better by the tide coming in and covering it. That as a kind of amazing bonus. So it actually became a work about half-tide, because of course, when the tide came up full all the seaweed was completely under the water.

Half-Tide, 1971

[ … ]

… It interests me very much that art functions as a kind of freedom. It’s like an open point of view. You can invent any idea and that’s enough — you can just do it.




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