Unreal Nature

March 21, 2019

On the Further Horizon

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:15 am

… its only possible value must lie “away from itself.”

This is from ‘The Strange Case of the Fluorescent Tube’ by Michael Francis Gibson (1987) found in It Is What It Is: Writings on Dan Flavin Since 1964 edited by Paula Feldman and Karstan Schubert (2004):

… “We’re making a simple proposition that is to the point and has no value away from itself.”

“A sort of A equals A statement, then, in terms of logic?” I ventured. “A rose is a rose is a rose?”

Flavin smiled and intoned in a folksy sing-song: “It is what it is and it ain’t nothin’ else.”

[ … ]

… A German Shepherd puppy I owned many years ago, wagged her tail at her own image in home movies, sniffed up all four-legged sculptures and barked at portraits until she grew up and learned to distinguish between living creatures and their representation. After that she studiedly ignored the movie screen and never looked at a painting again, though sculptures were always sniffed, just to make sure.

[line break added] It was as though she was embarrassed at having been fooled: she never glanced at the animated screen in the darkened room, as she might at any other luminous and moving object, but turned her back to it, lying on the floor and, rejecting every solicitation with a friendly thump of her tail, she could not be induced to lift her eyes towards it even for a moment. She had discovered that images are unreal — they look like dogs and people, but a critical nose can tell the difference — so she chose to ignore them. …

But things are different with us. Because we are human, we are irresistibly drawn to the screen that stands before us. But also, because we are human, we can very well look at it without being afraid of confusing the image with a real being, unless we choose to do so. If the meaning and power of persuasion of all signs and symbols have, as I believe, their foundations within the human mind, we may inquire into where they lead us.

[line break added] It may be that, understood correctly, they don’t speed us downhill and backwards to a wasteland of illusion — that the charm of beauty and the power once designated by the supernatural refer us forward to a natural fulfillment of great scope. If this is so, Flavin’s austerity is not inevitable in terms of the specific logic of culture.

… We may … admit that the work of art, the metaphorical rose whose import Gertrude Stein and Flavin both denied … can, if rightly handled, stand not for its uninteresting self but for all that lies “beyond” — beyond the banal and frequently grim ironies of the present — and which radiate the barely definable promise of a meaning that always appears to grow on the further horizon of our world. Indeed, its only possible value must lie “away from itself.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




March 20, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:10 am

This is from ‘Photography as Another Reality’ by Shigeo Gocho:

… Things that some people can see, other people cannot. Things that some people can hear, other people cannot.

… Photography provides a verisimilar “other reality.” No matter how much one might say that it presents pure fantasy or delusion, photography is about capturing an image of the outside world, which means that a photograph is only possible if it uses reality as a go-between. The life of a photograph, reborn by passing through this interactive relationship with reality, can have a powerful impact on us.

Since photography provides this “other reality,” I want to drag it into the depths of the limitlessly vague world of the everyday. … I wonder, however, if this endeavor, through the tragic betrayal of the photograph — will end with me biting my own tail? And yet, what if the door to the labyrinth leading to the world of the profound is in fact hiding here and there in this familiar place, so close at hand that all you have to do is reach out and touch it?




March 19, 2019

Microcosmic Exclusivity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:15 am

… In reality each follows its own path and starts afresh.

Continuing through The Sociology of Art by Arnold Hauser, translated by Kenneth J. Northcott (1982):

… History operates within the boundaries of the individual’s personal creative initiative, however limited this may be. Everything which lies on either side of his relative freedom is beyond the sphere of history.

… [The history of art] is governed by a principle of freedom — of a freedom which is in a state of permanent tension with physiology, psychology, and sociology.

… even if the history of mankind were one day to present the picture of an unbroken chain of causes, it would still be far from presenting the picture of a logical necessity. In spite of all its causal necessity, logically it would remain coincidental. For though we would know why one event follows another, we would have no evidence that this was the only possible continuation of the preceding happening.

… The unique and unrepeatable quality of artistic creations expresses not only the historical peculiarity of art but also an ahistorical something, the microcosmic exclusivity, the unsurpassable quality, and the final nature of works of art.

… They do not continue or supplement one another; their relationship is a more or less arbitrary construction of art history. In reality each follows its own path and starts afresh. No matter how often they make reference to other works, they never represent a step by step ascent. Later works are not necessarily more valuable than earlier ones; indeed they cannot be compared with one another.

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




March 18, 2019

The Gerbils Confused the Computer

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… our algorithms and their logics allow us to create and experience systems, but never to control them.

This first is from ‘Demo Life’ by Orit Halpern in issue #49 (2016) of the independent quarterly magazine, Volume:

… At the center of the exhibition [at the Jewish Museum in 1970] was a very popular installation titled SEEK built by Nicholas Negroponte’s Architecture Machine Group (AMG) from MIT. This particular demo-installation consisted of a small group of Mongolian desert gerbils, which were chosen, according to Negroponte, for their curiosity and inquisitive nature. They were placed in an environment of Plexiglas-mirrored blocks that was constantly rearranged by a robotic arm.

The basic concept was that the robot-computer would observe the interaction of the gerbils with their habitat — the blocks — and would gradually ‘learn’ their ‘living preferences’ by observing their behavior. The gerbils were there to introduce chance and unpredictable, non-mechanical behavior into the environment, and the role of the machine was to create a stable environment in equilibrium with the gerbils.

… Yet within days of the show’s opening, having initially amazed the public and brought out the crowds, this experiment in rethinking the conventional definition of intelligence, or perhaps even of life, began to entropically degrade. The machine ceased working because of problems with both the software and the hardware, yet failure was not just due to technical errors in the computer’s design.

[line break added] The gerbils confused the computer (it constantly got jammed), wrought havoc on the blocks, and became sick and aggressive, often attacking each other. The system ended up acting paranoid and psychotic; neither the machines nor the gerbils seemed to know where they were or with whom they were interacting.

[ … ]

… Both the neural net and pandemonium models of sense perception and character recognition suggest a new cognitive-sensory paradigm grounded in a decentralized understanding of mind and analytics, and a networked form of intelligence not grounded in consciousness or human bodies. We continue to live in the legacy of these developments, where ‘smartness’ has come to replace decision-making and reason.

[line break added] This is cause for both fear and hope, and returns us to Negroponte’s gerbils in their excessively responsive environment. In SEEK, the logistics of computation had folded upon itself to produce something not just different than what was intended, but also radically nihilistic. In the non-conscious effort to thwart the machine, or surprise it, the gerbils paranoically turned against themselves; like McCulloch’s circling neuron, unable to tell a new input from a recycled one.

[line break added] But this sad story also offers some opportunity, for it demonstrates the unknowability of the future in the radical alienness of computing; that systems never behave as we expect them to. Whether dealing with financial markets, social networks, urban environments, or weather systems, our algorithms and their logics allow us to create and experience systems, but never to control them.




March 17, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:17 am

… yet at every moment the fabric is being undone and a new one is woven …

This is from The Shape of Time: Remarks on the History of Things by George Kubler (1962):

… Biological time consists of uninterrupted durations of statistically predictable lengths: each organism exists from birth to death upon an ‘expected’ lifespan. Historical time, however, is intermittent and variable. Every action is more intermittent than it is continuous, and the intervals between actions are infinitely variable in duration and content. The end of an action and its beginning are indeterminate. Clusters of actions here and there thin out or thicken sufficiently to allow us with some objectivity to mark beginnings and endings.

… Now and in the past, most of the time the majority of people live by borrowed ideas and upon traditional accumulations, yet at every moment the fabric is being undone and a new one is woven to replace the old, while from time to time the whole pattern shakes and quivers, settling into new shapes and figures.




March 16, 2019

By Curving the Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

This is from Henri Bergson by Vladimir Jankélévitch, translated by Nils F. Schott (1959, 2015):

… The linear conception is that of associationists who think of the interpretive or intellective movement as a procession of the mind in a straight line starting from the alphabet of sensation. I’ll add that intellectual atomism, in its concern with savings and didactic clarity, needs generally to provide itself with these purely progressive linear series without turnarounds, without possible inflection: can one imagine the movement of fabrication going backward and, in a sense, curving? The approach of the mind, on the contrary, whether it perceives, recognizes, recalls, understand, or invents, is always circuit.

… The spiritual totality, whose principle is memory, in a way circularizes the indefinite and rectilinear principle with which associationism hypnotizes itself. It is this totality that closes the circuit; by curving the mind onto the extensive afflux of the given, it spirtualizes the “pure outside” and totalizes the elementary.

My previous post from Jankélévitch’s book is here.




March 15, 2019

As If There Was Something to Take Off

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

This is from Sweet Nothings: Notes and Texts by Marlene Dumas, edited by Mariska van den Berg (2015). For those of you not familiar with her, Dumas is a painter:

… The problem with contemporary art is that it’s far too self-conscious. To my mind, when art is too well-orchestrated, when it knows only too well how to manipulate its public and knows exactly what the public wants, then inevitably emotion is absent because, in my opinion, art that moves you has something ungainly about it, is in some way bound up with a combination of hesitation and something going wrong.

If art is too shielded and protected we end by smothering it to death. Mishima: ‘If art is not constantly threatened and stimulated by things outside its domain, it exhausts itself.’

There is a crisis with regard to Representation.
They are looking for Meaning as if it was a thing.
As if it was a girl, required to take her panties off
as if she would want to do so, as soon as
the true interpreter comes along.
As if there was something to take off.

My most recent previous post from Dumas‘ book is here.




March 14, 2019

The Insistent Rays of an Irradiant Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:06 am

This is from ‘Rays of Hope, Particles of Doubt’ by Peter Plagens (1973) found in It Is What It Is: Writings on Dan Flavin Since 1964 edited by Paula Feldman and Karstan Schubert (2004):

The problem with art made more or less directly from light (usually electric, indoor) is that the work seems to look back at you. It was disturbing enough when self-consciously abstract art, by giving up the conventional ruse of verisimilitude, reinforced the “otherness” of the art object and made the viewer almost painfully aware of the gap (in Sartrean terms, “the secretion of ‘nothingness'”) between himself and the whole world. But the insistent rays of an irradiant work of art deprive the spectator of even his sure ground as the seer by rendering him, too, as a possible object.

… While I was in the show I found, delightfully, I couldn’t think like a critic; I couldn’t make art-historical or art world connections, or glue any language to what I saw.

Dan Flavin is the American artist who at the moment really deserves the tired adjective “important,” for he is liberating art from its objects, its elitism, and its hermeticism.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




March 13, 2019

Its Construction

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:19 am

… Photos could capture the poignant contrast between the drawn blueprint, used as a piece of background décor, and the emergent Doll.

This is from Hans Bellmer by Peter Webb with Robert Short (1985):

… the surrealists showed no condescension towards Bellmer’s use of photography to record the life of his Doll. Many artists despised photography as a journeyman’s medium because of its mechanical nature. The surrealists valued it just because, like the cinema, it had yet to acquire its lettres de noblesse.

… The surrealists loved the photograph’s ability to fix a fugitive moment, to perform alchemical metamorphoses of light and shade, the real and the imaginary. In Nadja, Les Vases communicants and L’Amour fou, Breton used photos that were deliberately banal as circumstantial evidence to authenticate his accounts of the manifestations of the marvelous in everyday life.

[line break added] On the one hand, because ‘the camera can’t lie,’ it could be used to prove the reality of fantasy; on the other because of its power to select and distort, it offered access to the other side of the looking-glass. Breton and his friends saw that the intervention of Bellmer the photographer in the creations of Bellmer the sculptor and inventor of the Doll added a further dimension to his scabrous seductions: that of a perfectly conscious and organized voyeurism.

[line break added] They appreciated also the narrative function of the meaning of the 1934 Doll was in the story of its construction, in its metamorphosis from armature of wood and metal to the various arrangements of the fragments composing the fully fleshed sculpture. Photos could capture the poignant contrast between the drawn blueprint, used as a piece of background décor, and the emergent Doll.

My previous post from this book is here.




March 12, 2019

At the Moment

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:23 am

… they are linked to a particular point in time without being lost in the historical process.

Continuing through The Sociology of Art by Arnold Hauser, translated by Kenneth J. Northcott (1982):

… The historical nature of art derives mainly from the fact that the true, high-quality, complete aesthetic object consists of the active subject-object relationship. It is not the artwork itself, but the actual artistic experience that has become effective. This not only means that receptive subjects in their particular historical situation always experience and evaluate different works or experience and evaluate the same works differently, but also that the works in themselves seem to change as they appear in changing historical contexts. It is not only that new works are created under the influence of old ones but that these too change according to the particular art which they are unavoidably related to at the moment.

… It is part of the paradoxical nature of the work of art that it is always transitory and that as a historical phenomenon it fits into a chronological series; on the other hand it has to renounce this transitory character and the relationship to other artistic phenomena and stand as a completely isolated individual case, unprecedented and individual. Only in this way can it become the object of an immediate, evocative, microcosmic experience related to the totality of life.

[line break added] Works of art are historically unique; they are linked to a particular point in time without being lost in the historical process. They cannot be explained adequately by their genesis or be surpassed in the course of development or rejected once and for all. They remain incommensurable and cannot be repeated, and, unlike the periodicity of natural phenomena, this uniqueness expresses their historicity.

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




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