Unreal Nature

May 19, 2019

Or You’ll See Nothing

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:13 am

… One has to be able to sniff the wax of a Marden in order to perceive the glacial pulse of the underlayers …

This is from ‘Slow (Fast) Modern’ by Yve-Alain Bois (2009):

Stop or, at least, slow down. Very few forces within contemporary life ever demand that we do so. And when they do, it’s only for a very short time: just enough for us to notice the change in pace and then go on with our busy existence. Filmmakers long ago ascertained the efficacy of slow motion as a form of emphasis. They make use of it much as a writer places a word in italics.

[line break added] Right from the start, even in the most experimental forms of cinema, slow motion sequences have always been brief accents interrupting a staccato continuum of discontinuous shots. (Films shot in real time remain scarce and continue to be perceived as bordering on the sadistic. Long takes have become an ever rarer treat. More and more films are conceived as extended trailers.)

… Can an artwork rebel against the fast flow of art tourism? Can an artwork force us to alter our viewing habits? I would like to make a plea for the venerable practice declared dead every twenty years or so during the past century: namely, painting.

… Some paintings demand that we slow down. They put us in an either/or situation: either you proceed at the speed they require, or you’ll see nothing that is specific to the works in question, nothing specific to their medium.

… How do some paintings deflect the ever-growing demand for speedy consumption? What forces you to go at a snail’s pace when looking at a small genre scene by Edouard Vuillard, a still life by Giorgio Morandi, a monochrome wax painting by Brice Marden, a penciled grid by Agnes Martin, or certain Rothkos?

… Low hue and value contrasts dictate subdued lighting conditions — a 1965 ‘black’ Reinhardt under floodlight is nothing much more than a black square — a weak light, in turn, dictates slow adjustments on the part of our gaze. Rothko always turned out the lights whenever he ventured into a gallery or a museum showing his work. (They were inevitably put back on by the dealer or curator as soon as he had left the premises.) Distance too, or rather the lack thereof, plays an important role: all of the works mentioned entreat us to come close (and this is true even of Rothkos).

[line break added] One has to be able to sniff the wax of a Marden in order to perceive the glacial pulse of the underlayers and feel their effect on the unnamable epidermic color; one must be on the verge of touching the matte surface of a Vuillard in order to hear its murmur; one must notice the many inflections of Martin’s penciled lines in order to witness the transformation they enact of a cloud into a grid. I have suggested that some paintings demand that we slow down. As a matter of fact, most do, at least implicitly.

-Julie

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