Unreal Nature

November 30, 2018

Keeping in Touch

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves …

This is from ‘On Keeping a Notebook’ by Joan Didion:

… So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking. That would be a different impulse entirely, an instinct for reality which I sometimes envy but do not possess. At no point have I ever been able successfully to keep a diary; my approach to daily life ranges from the grossly negligent to the merely absent, and on those few occasions when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best. What is this business about “shopping, typing piece, dinner with E, depressed”? … Who cares?

In fact I have abandoned altogether that kind of pointless entry; instead I tell what some would call lies. “That’s simply not true,” the members of my family frequently tell me when they come up against my memory of a shared event. “The party was not for you, the spider was not a black widow, it wasn’t that way at all.” Very likely they are right, for not only have I always had trouble distinguishing between what happened and what merely might have happened, but I remain unconvinced that the distinction, for my purposes, matters.

[ … ]

… It is a good idea … to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.




November 29, 2018

The Deepest and Most Basic Kinds

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

Goldsworthy is dealing … with the cognitive machinery we have evolved for extracting such organizing principles from the chaos of sensory appearance.

Continuing through Martin Kemp’s essay in The Andy Goldsworthy Project by Molly Donovan and Tina Fiske with John Beardsley and Martin Kemp:

… [D’Arcy Wentworth] Thompson for his part would have been fascinated by the structural and physical implications of Goldsworthy’s inventions — though he would not have been satisfied until he had sorted out their mathematical rationale. Goldsworthy’s own quest intuitively delves into the “essential similitudes” that lie behind the shapes generated over time, as “so many portions of matter … have been moved, moulded and conformed.”

[line break added] Thompson readily admitted to what might be called an “aesthetic” tool in his diagnostic equipment: “it is another plane of thought from the physicist’s that we contemplate … [the mathematical morphologies’] intrinsic harmony and perfection, and ‘see that they are good.'”

[line break added] This sense of “goodness” or “rightness” is what many scientists feel when they first glimpse a possible solution to a problem, often long in advance of the formal verification or proof. Frequently the intuition of rightness is fed by analogy, that is to say, by reference to comparable behaviors in phenomena other than the one being investigated.

Goldsworthy is dealing both with configurations of “essential similitudes” across natural forms and phenomena and with the cognitive machinery we have evolved for extracting such organizing principles from the chaos of sensory appearance. The process involves “structural intuitions” of the deepest and most basic kinds.

My previous post from this book is here.




November 28, 2018

Back to the Surface

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… it lays bare the coexistence and overlap of two categories of signs …

Continuing through Jan Dibbets: The Photographic Work by Erik Verhagen (2014):

… The reconstruction is imagined and thought through at an early stage of the work with the photograph, Dibbets now setting great store by having a subject presenting a clearly visible depth effect. To achieve this he must, by positioning his camera and looking into the viewfinder (this is the first level), anticipate the photographic transcription — pre-view it, so to speak.

[line break added] Once the image has been developed, he decontextualizes his subject with a cut-out (this is the second level) in a way that accentuates the distortion inherent in the photographic rationale. A third operation, also part of the earlier works, consists in painting around the “mother image” already glued onto a support, with the intention of making the very notion of the support disappear and, as far as possible, bringing back to the surface the image with its heavily emphasized illusion of depth; the ultimate aim being to create a work as tense as it is paradoxical.

… it lays bare the coexistence and overlap of two categories of signs — the iconic and the indexical — which we mistakenly thought could be dissociated.

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




November 27, 2018

Complete Inbreeding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… Artists produce their works for artists, and art … becomes the real subject of art.

Continuing through The Social History of Art, volume IV by Arnold Hauser (1962; 1951):

… Aestheticism reaches the pinnacle of its development in the age of impressionism. Its characteristic criteria, the passive, purely contemplative attitude to life, the transitoriness and noncommitting quality of experience and hedonistic sensualism, are now the standards by which art in general is judged.

[line break added] The work of art is not only considered an end in itself, not only a self-sufficient game, whose charm is apt to be destroyed by any extraneous, extra-aesthetic purpose, not only the most beautiful gift which life has to offer for the enjoyment of which it is one’s duty devotedly to prepare oneself, it becomes, in its autonomy, its lack of consideration for everything outside its sphere, a pattern for life for the life of the dilettante who now begins to displace the intellectual heroes of the past in the estimation of poets and writers and represents the ideal of the fin de siècle.

[line break added] What distinguished him above all is the fact that he strives to ‘turn his life into a work of art,’ in other words, into something costly and useless, something flowing along freely and extravagantly, something offered up to the beauty, the pure form, the harmony of tones and lines. Aesthetic culture implies a way of life marked by uselessness and superfluousness, that is to say, the embodiment of romantic resignation and passivity. But it outdoes romanticism; it not only renounces life for the sake of art, it seeks for the justification of life in art itself.

[line break added] It regards the world of art as the only real compensation for the disappointments of life, as the genuine realization and consummation of an existence that is intrinsically incomplete and inarticulate. But this not only means that life seems more beautiful and more conciliatory when clothed in art, but that, as Proust, the last great impressionist and aesthetic hedonist, thought, it only grows into significant reality in memory, vision and the aesthetic experience.

… The aesthetic philosophy of impressionism marks the beginning of a process of complete inbreeding in art. Artists produce their works for artists, and art, that is, the formal experience of the world sub specie artis, becomes the real subject of art. Raw, unformed nature untouched by culture loses its aesthetic attraction and the ideal of naturalness is thrust aside by an ideal of artificiality.

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




November 26, 2018

The Student’s Will

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… conventional explication stultifies learning by short-circuiting the journey …

This is from ‘Alchemy of the Classroom’ by Ethel Baraona Pohl & César Reyes Nájera in issue #45 (2015) of the independent quarterly magazine, Volume:

… Means of exploration are often driven by a mix of curiosity and necessity but also by the necessity to discover new ways of living. This sort of forced emancipation recalls the intellectual experience that Jacques Rancière writes about in The Ignorant Schoolmaster; Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. The book describes the pedagogical experience of Joseph Jacotot, a French teacher who created a method of “intellectual emancipation” that demystified the authority of the teacher as one who knows and imparts that to students who don’t.

[line break added] In this way, knowledge is received, absorbed passively and then simply reproduced. On the contrary, Jacotot’s method resembles the process of learning a language where experimentation, exploration and imitation are more effective than conventional teaching. By reducing the alleged superiority between master and student, Jacotot inverted the logic of a system based on explanations.

[line break added] Arguing that intelligence is shared and manifested in all products of human labor (everything is in everything), Jacotot pointed to the possibility of an incremental acquisition of knowledge by self-instruction. Jacotot believed that conventional explication stultifies learning by short-circuiting the journey that the student is able to make, thus creating an unconscious ‘veil of ignorance’ and a duality of superior and inferior intelligence, between the master and the student.

At the starting point of Jacotot’s method is a distinction between two human traits: intelligence and will. Students may just need to follow the teacher’s will, who guides them towards the subject. In Jacotot’s classes, the students learned using their own methods, not his.

… One of the reasons to understand why the traditional economic and bureaucratic system in academia hasn’t changed is possibly because not only education but also our social and cultural reality has become ‘schooled,’ as Ivan Illich points out in his book Deschooling Society. Illich states that universal education through schooling is not feasible, and adds that “the current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.




November 25, 2018

The Rapacious Need for Novelty

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… those with nothing to say attach exaggerated importance to novelties of vocabulary.

Continuing through Music and the Ineffable by Vladimir Jankélévitch translated by Carolyn Abbate (1983):

… Even the famous musical innovations whose invention is rightly attributed to Debussy’s creative genius, even these would be mere curiosities and, in the long run, rhetorical formulae, commonplaces, tiresome clichés and stereotypes, were it not for a celestial, unknowable something that renders them eloquent and convincing from the outset.

[line break added] For a whole-tone scale per se is nothing, clearly nothing, and a series of parallel seventh chords is also nothing: at best a cliché, something for imitators to get hold of, a mechanical process suitable for industry and assembly line production. Debussy’s revolutionary innovations seem unforeseeable before the fact (or to anyone who seeks to anticipate them), surprising in the moment, and organically necessary after the fact or upon retrospective reflection.

[ … ]

… by displacing a single syllable within the verse, by changing the least of vowels, one vandalizes the entire poem. The damage is disproportionate to the material alteration; the unknowable something has become unrecognizable.

A brilliant musician can in fact be an innovator without strictly speaking being an inventor. In such cases, those who expect “great discoveries” will be disappointed. Let there be no doubt: the rapacious need for novelty, so characteristic of the escalating modernist auction, entails the idea that a musical act is a thing, in which case, music is no more than technique, technique alone.

… those with nothing to say attach exaggerated importance to novelties of vocabulary.

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




November 24, 2018

Salt, Sweat, Noise, Smell

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… A moment later, a few inches away, an attic door creaked open …

This is from The Empty Space by Peter Brook (1968):

… It is always the popular theatre that saves the day. Through the ages it has taken many forms, and there is only one factor that they all have in common — a roughness. Salt, sweat, noise, smell: the theatre that’s not in a theatre, the theatre on carts, on wagons, on trestles, audiences standing, drinking, sitting round tables, audiences joining in, answering back: theatre in back rooms, upstairs rooms, barns; the one-night stands, the torn sheet pinned up across the hall, the battered screen to conceal the quick changes — that one generic term, theatre, covers all this and the sparkling chandeliers too.

… In the luxury of the high-class theatre, everything can be all of a piece: in a rough theatre a bucket will be banged for a battle, flour used to show faces white with fear. The arsenal is limitless: the aside, the placard, the topical reference, the local jokes, the exploiting of accidents, the songs, the dances, the tempo, the noise, the relying on contrasts, the shorthand of exaggeration, the false noses, the stock types, the stuffed bellies.

… If the holy makes a world in which prayer is more real than a belch, in the rough theatre, it is the other way round. The belching, then, is real and prayer would be considered comic. The Rough Theatre has apparently no style, no conventions, no limitations — in practice, it has all three. Just as in life the wearing of old clothes can start as defiance and turn into a posture, so roughness can become an end in itself. The defiant popular theatre man can be so down-to-earth that he forbids his material to fly.

[line break added] He can even deny flight as a possibility, or the heavens as a suitable place to wander. This brings us to the point where Holy Theatre and the Rough Theatre show their true antagonism to one another. The Holy Theatre deals with the invisible and this invisible contains all the hidden impulses of man. The Rough Theatre deals with men’s actions, and because it is down to earth and direct — because it admits wickedness and laughter — the rough and ready seems better than the hollowly holy.

… In a Hamburg garret I once saw a production of Crime and Punishment, and that evening became, before its four-hour stretch was over, one of the most striking theatre experiences I have ever had.

… here, in the attic, when an actor in a chair touching our knees began quietly to say, ‘It was in the year of 18— that a young student, Roman Rodianovitch Raskolnikov … ‘ we were gripped by living theatre.

Gripped. What does that mean? I cannot tell. I only know that these words and soft serious tone of voice conjured something up, somewhere, for us all. We were listeners, children hearing a bedside story yet at the same time adults, fully aware of all that was going on. A moment later, a few inches away, an attic door creaked open and an actor impersonating Raskolnikov appeared, and already we were deep in the drama.

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




November 23, 2018

That Is All

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… We can hardly blame ourselves for feeling that it isn’t enough.

This is from ‘The Vanishing Act’ by Dan Jacobson:

We expect our children’s childhood to pass as slowly as we remember our own to have done. And so it does — to them. To them a week or a month or a year can appear ocean-like in its expanses of sameness or changeableness. To us, however, to the parents we have become, the childhood of our children passes as swiftly as everything else in adult years. From moment to moment, we feel, we are left vainly grasping after people who are no longer there. They have vanished even while we were looking at them.

[line break added] How can we recall the six-week-old infant when he has been shouldered out of his own life and out of our minds by someone of the same name and with something of the same features who is now six months old; and how can we recall the six-month-old infant when another infant aged two years or three years or five years has taken his place? And the fifteen-year-old who replaces that five-year-old will in turn be swiftly replaced by an adult with whom our relationship is bound to be quite different from the other, provisional relationships we had before with all his or her other, provisional selves.

… Of our children, of our children’s younger selves, virtually nothing remains. When we try to think of them as they once were (perhaps a few months ago) we have to be content, all too often, with unexpected, unanchored fragments. A forgotten item of clothing seen by chance in a drawer, for example, will perhaps produce not so much a visual image as some sort of tactile reawakening within the self, a “feel” of having handled the small body which the garment once covered.

[line break added] Revisiting, on our own, a place we have been to with our children, we may find them suddenly revisiting us: not as individuals who were then of this height or whose hair was cut in that way, but as urgent presences merely, beings whose hands were in our own or slipping away from them, whose voices were raised or silent.

[line break added] What these presences also bring back is not so much a recollection of our emotions as of theirs: their eagerness, their curiosity, imperious hungers or uncurtailable rages, their collapses into sleepiness or indifference. Only in that context can we recall the sensation, private to us, unknown to them, of having been in charge, of having been under pressure, of having once been parents.

That is all. We can hardly blame ourselves for feeling that it isn’t enough.




November 22, 2018

In Tune with the Mind of Nature

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… If … “awareness” can embrace the idea of an instinctual and experiential practice based upon the nature of materials … then the spider exhibits deep levels of awareness.

This is from Martin Kemp’s essay in The Andy Goldsworthy Project by Molly Donovan and Tina Fiske with John Beardsley and Martin Kemp:

Andy Goldsworthy’s father was a mathematician. F.A. (Allin) Goldsworthy was professor of applied mathematics at Leeds University.

… The forms and processes that [Andy] Goldsworthy uses tap deeply into the engineering of nature, often involving the kinds of complex static and dynamic structures that have taxed the analytic powers of such mathematically minded biologists as D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, whose Growth and Form (1917) remains the masterpiece of geometrical biology. Goldsworthy’s cairns, arches, domes, and related structures seem to stand within a long tradition of structures mathematically contrived by human engineers.

[line break added] Yet he works by instinct and experience, not by predetermined calculation. His autonomous building practice connects man with the structural intuition of the spider, while his collaborative works align man with other cooperative species such as the bee, the swallow, the bowerbird, and the ant. The webs, honeycombs, nests, and hills these animals forge depend upon profound mathematical principles, of which their designers are of course wholly unaware.

On second thought, this formulation depends on how we define “awareness.” If we mean a conscious engagement cast in the form of analytical understanding, the spider has no such awareness of why and how its web achieves its optimum design. If, on the other hand, “awareness” can embrace the idea of an instinctual and experiential practice based upon the nature of materials and the visual-cum-somatic manipulation of them in a way that feels inevitable and right, then the spider exhibits deep levels of awareness.

[line break added] We may say, metaphorically, that the spider is in tune with the mind of nature. Goldsworthy’s level of consciousness is of course at a different level from that of a spider, but when he is totally immersed in the mental and physical process of construction, he can at those moments seem to be closer to a spider tuning into nature than to his father writing his mathematical papers.

… It is the nature of a successful work of art, in contrast to an exposition in science, that it presents the spectator with an open field for association, even beyond those consciously defined by the artist. The artist sets the parameters for the types of resonances, but does not enumerate or prescribe them. No artist presents us with a richer field of possibilities than Goldsworthy.




November 21, 2018

Serious Motives for Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… while the idea is conceptually credible, it loses all credibility once it is put into practice.

This is from Jan Dibbets: The Photographic Work by Erik Verhagen (2014):

… As Rudi Fuchs put it, “Beyond the disappearing image, there is nothing more. Thus Dibbets turned his attention to images that are almost motionless.” Fuchs goes on to analyze this new turning as follows: “Sometimes in the course of his work, an artist risks a fundamental change, or at least a change that takes him far away from what he has been doing.

[line break added] “Maybe this is simply a sense of adventure [ … ] but there are other, more serious motives for change; an artist changes course when the work threatens to go astray, or when it starts drifting on the flow of its own beauty. Jan Dibbets is very sensitive to that danger because his work, like the work of all good artists in the abstract-geometrical tradition, is formally extremely fragile. Works such as the Dutch Mountains balance, especially in their formal construction, on the edge.

[line break added] “They can easily become self-indulgent; the images are beautiful and mysterious, sometimes dangerously elegant. When they pass that thin line beyond which formal control is lost, they fail. Before that happens, the artist moves away to another, completely different area, to gain another point of view from which to look back on previous production with fresh eyes.

[line break added] “Formal change thus becomes an important element in the judgment of one’s own work, a critical activity an artist cannot do without. [ … ] A change of focus is not random or speculative, but a step consciously taken within the context of an artist’s work. Work evolves along a central line and around certain central ideas that are sacred to the artist. [ … ] Sometimes a group of works moves too far from those fundamental convictions, and then it is time to change.”

from the Dutch Mountains series

[ … ]

… Looking back, Dibbets would talk about the Colorstudies in these terms: “[They’re] the consequence of speculation about the structure of the photographic image. Earlier I’d made photographs of water surfaces, leaves, etc. When I put the arbitrarily taken photos one beside the other, it still worked because of the structure of the image. That set me thinking; what would happen if I stripped the image of its structure?

[line break added] “Then I had the idea of photographing something as flat and shiny as photographic paper. That’s where the photographs of car hoods came from. They’re as real and concrete as the other studies; they’re representations of reality.” Thus the Colorstudies were controversial because they irrevocably transgressed the constructional data that had given shape, discreetly or otherwise, overtly or furtively, to all the works we have considered so far.

… The intention is to get as close as possible to the subject via its chromatic palette the better to cut free of it, and to effect once more a reversal of the indexical rationale so as to accentuate the qualities and distinctive characteristics of the image.

… if the Colorstudies, like the other works, stem from a “program” of transcription and abstraction, their specific qualities, which the artist has made his priority, possess a degree of independence that transgresses the medium’s transformative possibilities. Yet at the same time the colors Dibbets portrays remain dependent on the forms to which they are “attached.”

[line break added] This dependence immediately entails rejection of the idea of chromatic purification so dear to the neoplasticians and the modernists for the simple reason that while the idea is conceptually credible, it loses all credibility once it is put into practice — as Dibbets is very much aware. Thus the curved and irregular forms “used” by the artist for representational purposes only reinforce the non-credibility of monochromatic purity. Color cannot be detached from the externality which it is part of and which constitutes it.

[line break added] Merleau-Ponty’s view is interesting here: “The perceptual ‘something’ is always in the middle of something else, it always forms part of a ‘field.’ [ … ] The red patch which I see on the carpet is red only in virtue of a shadow which lies across it, its quality is apparent only in relation to the play of light upon it, and hence as an element in a spatial configuration. … Finally this red would literally not be the same if it were not the ‘wooly red’ of a carpet.”

… the Colorstudies were simultaneously a stinging commercial and critical failure … and an incontestable success in terms of reorienting Dibbets‘ speculation about and via photography.

My previous post from Verhagen’s book is here.




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