Unreal Nature

June 30, 2019

Our Narcissistic Genius

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:14 am

… Noisy, chatty, fast, cheating, my consciousness conceals history …

Continuing through The Incandescent by Michel Serres, translated by Randolph Burks (2003; 2018):

… Let’s count the relative time of these three conservatories [of memory] taking a year as our reference: when I remember my passing romances, my first memory, which has lasted a few decades, plunges into a thin layer of a millisecond …

… In the study of the processes that animate us, do we forget this division of time and therefore the relative weights of the constraints we are subject to? Our individual existence and cultural histories weigh no more than a snowflake compared to the tons of this Grand Narrative.

In barking, grazing, spinning their webs, knotting their nests or mating, living things remember the last of these conservatories rigorously; their gestures flawlessly execute its dictates. Contrary to these genetic automatons, hominization made us into monsters of forgetfulness. Our narcissistic genius privileges, in filtering them by means of a net full of holes, the several milligrams of recent influence and plunges into the dark the quasi-totality of the year that has just gone by, before the events that only concerned me or us, the most amnesiac of living things. When we devote ourselves to history, we omit the quasi-totality of time; we remember much less than eleven months.

Not only do we forget where we just put our keys, something which sometimes allows us to invent new ones, not only do we forget the crimes of our parents and those of our neighbors, quite fortunately for morality and pardon, but we don’t even remember we have a body that’s as old as the rocks of the world. We pride ourselves on a few cognitive performances, attributing them to the genius of some Newton or of our cultural clan, without noticing that we often know and almost always move by means of million-year-old neurons, invariant before prehistory and my birthday.

[line break added] Noisy, chatty, fast, cheating, my consciousness conceals history, and this latter, more lying and raucous still, hides the honest and silent evolution whose slowness rises up over endlessly prepared inert soups. Amnesiac, all of them, consciousness, language and the pride in their performances silence the body and its age, the Universe and its ancientness.

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




June 29, 2019

Every Touch

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:28 am

… to color well requires your life. It cannot be done cheaper.

This is from The Elements of Drawing by John Ruskin (1857):

… you need not hope ever to produce anything more than pleasant helps to memory, or useful and suggestive sketches in color, unless you mean to be wholly an artist. You may, in the time which other vocations leave at your disposal, produce finished, beautiful and masterly drawings in light and shade. But to color well requires your life. It cannot be done cheaper. The difficulty of doing right is increased — not twofold nor threefold, but a thousandfold and more — by the addition of color to your work.

[line break added] For the chances are more than a thousand to one against your being right both in form and color with a given touch: it is difficult enough to be right in form if you attend to that only; but when you have to attend, at the same moment, to a much more subtle thing than the form the difficulty is strangely increased — and multiplied almost to infinity by this great fact, that, while form is absolute so that you can say at the moment you draw any line that it is either right or wrong, color is wholly relative.

[line break added] Every hue throughout your work is altered by every touch that you add in other places; so that what was warm a minute ago becomes cold when you have put a hotter color in another place, and what was in harmony when you left it becomes discordant as you set other colors beside it; so that every touch must be laid, not with a view to its effect at the time, but a view to its effect in futurity, the result upon it of all that is afterwards to be done being previously considered. You may easily understand that, this being so, nothing but the devotion of life, and great genius besides, can make a colorist.




June 28, 2019

Ordinary Matter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… I was fascinated and bewitched by the fierce conflict between the forces maintaining the condition of art and the forces attempting to return it to nature.

This is from The Art of Encounter by Lee Ufan (2018):

… After going back to this exhibition a number of times and wandering through the galleries, I was surprised at what I found myself looking at most intently.
It was not Mantegna’s The Dead Christ, Vermeer’s Lady Writing a Letter, or Rubens’s The Four Continents. I could not bring myself to enjoy these crystallizations of their age, which, like magical creatures continued to exist universally beyond space and time. In fact, I felt some hostility toward them.

Perhaps because I sensed that the exhibition was intended to be a paean to the indestructibility of beauty produced by artistic expression, I was attracted instead to the most badly damaged pieces on display. These included an earthen wall which barely retained the traces of painting and broken pieces of stone from which it was barely possible to imagine the original sculpture.

[line break added] There was a mural depicting the Olympic Games entitled A Panel from the Tomb of the Olympiads, dated to the late sixth century B.C., a fresco with four chariots and human figures depicted in black outlines filled in with flat color. Most of the picture was lost and the remaining imagery had the appearance of fragments scattered across a broad expanse of earthen wall.

… The works that drew my attention were all in a precarious condition because of disturbance in the original form caused by some sort of damage or a conflict between the original form and defects that appeared later.

These works were no longer original, complete works of art that made a strong statement. They had been weathered and damaged over a long period of time. Their original perfection had faded, and a condition that was partially ordinary matter with no connection to art was revealed. However, I was fascinated and bewitched by the fierce conflict between the forces maintaining the condition of art and the forces attempting to return it to nature. It was impossible to see these works exclusively as the original art or as fragments of nature.
They differed from both art and nature. This unknowable aspect is probably what attracted my attention and interest.

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




June 27, 2019

To Undermine the Photographic Flatness of the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:15 am

Dumas painted to resist, to comprehend, and to insist upon, for herself and for her viewer, the knowledge of what is not laid bare by the photograph.

This is from ‘Painter as Witness’ by Cornelia Butler found in Marlene Dumas: Measuring Your Own Grave ‘organized’ by Butler (2008):

Dumas’s hunting and gathering of pictures of all kinds is an almost entropic way to create visual knowledge, the end result being a painting. It is as if, aware of living in a time of extreme obfuscation, she is attempting to maintain vigilance as a citizen through a persistent sorting of media.

This requires the kind of engaged viewing that Laura Mulvey called a “curious spectatorship,” as opposed to a pensive or passive one. Recuperating images by appropriating, projecting, altering, and painting them is a way of being in the world, of bearing witness and making contact through the invention of a visual language based on a productive distortion and restoration of still images.

… It is the implied resolution of the still photograph — the permission or closure that it gives the viewer in relationship to the recorded event or moment — that Dumas seeks to disturb, deeply.

… Writing about these class pictures, Ulrich Loock described the act of double representation performed by Dumas — the painting of the subject and the self-conscious portrayal of a type of picture which is virtually universal:

This being-seen-through-the-lens-of-the-camera is painted into the picture of a school class posing for the photographer. The point is not that the arrangement of the subjects, their physical posture, the direction of their gaze should unmistakably demonstrate that this is a painting after a conventional class photograph; rather we are confronted here with the representation of the photographic essence of the picture. The consequence of a photographic approach to the world — the thingness, the accessibility of what is photographically grasped — have been painted into this picture.

These are truly disturbing pictures in no small measure because they comprise what Loock called “painting in order to implement and undermine the photographic flatness of the world.” Here again, Dumas painted to resist, to comprehend, and to insist upon, for herself and for her viewer, the knowledge of what is not laid bare by the photograph.

… Because she penetrates and pulls apart the mechanism of projection, of how we understand the images and events of our time, she restores presence and a nurtured and productive ambiguity to how we understand the pageant of the real, of life and death.




June 26, 2019

That Feels More Like Love

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:23 am

… there is something about process that is unyielding and necessary to hold on to.

This is from ‘Exercises in Abstraction’ by Briony Fer found in Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory edited by Gary Garrels (2018):

Vija Celmins has described her move back to painting after twelve years of drawing as “almost like an inchworm going from one thing to the other.” … By invoking an inchworm, the artist suggests a vivid, tactile relationship to and rhythmic, looping movements across the ground. As a measure of the earth — or, for that matter, as a measure of the ground of an image — the inchworm represents a larval state that is neither geometric nor arithmetical (despite the name of the family of moths — Geometridae — into which the caterpillar will transform) but one that follows its own haptic, creaturely logic.

… Historically, one of the more interesting aspects of observational drawing is not so much the question of “truth to nature,” in a tradition from Albrecht Dürer onward, but rather the idea of a visual exercise of transcription that corresponded in some profound way with what it was like to look in a concentrated manner over time. This is dramatized by modernist writers such as Paul Valéry, who saw la manie de voir (the mania for seeing) played out through drawing, but it is by no means an exclusively modern preserve.

… An exercise in observational drawing is situated on that fine line between the strictness of an instruction and an almost mesmeric activity in close attention, caught between a discipline and a desire — to draw. In John Ruskin’s The Elements of Drawing, published in 1857 and written for amateur artists, the seemingly orderly process of observing and drawing a stone in Exercise VIII gives way — over more than twenty pages — to a language of description that feels more like love than Ruskin the moralist would perhaps want us to think.

[line break added] That most obdurate of objects, a stone, which he instructs his reader to go and find on a path outside, succumbs to his hypersensitive eye, as if it can’t help but yield to a more inward and wayward vision. And we can’t help but be struck by the physical and almost bodily feel of the pencil on the paper, by the cracks in the stone like tiny ravines, by the shadows, as Ruskin delves into the minutiae of his transcription.

… [Celmins‘] repertoire of techniques, including the brushstrokes in her paintings of objects from the mid-1960s, always seemed destined to encrypt rather than reveal her subjects. And her subjects, in turn — like an open envelope that reveals shadow but not its contents — act out a view of painting as a receptacle for keeping things secret rather than showing them off.

… mimetic illusionism has been turned against itself to demonstrate only the certainty that verisimilitude is proof of nothing. The work is instead composed of tiny objects that make a strange force field: creating different intensities and energies between things that are pairs and things that are not.

… Working from the vantage point of the small scale does not mean that art turns in on itself to dwell on its own purely internal, aesthetic properties. On the contrary, it is to insist that there is something about process that is unyielding and necessary to hold on to. Her work makes demands on us that are part of its efficacy as art, not in spite of it. Rather than continue to maintain an opposition between art that looks outside itself and art that dwells on the conditions of its own making, Celmins shows us that art can do both.




June 25, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:20 am

… consciousness which objectifies itself faces at every stage of its development a relatively inert and recalcitrant element …

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

… The fundamental principle of dialectical thinking rests on the understanding that contradictory determinations and attitudes are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary — just like the individual and society, or form and content — they are indissolubly linked and reveal their nature only through their antagonism.

… The basic fact to which all thought and will relating to being refer consists in the fact that the subject never finds himself face to face with an object that is complete from the beginning, but that self and world are always caught in a dependence upon each other. Neither of the two factors is only product or only producer. The inevitability and the inconclusiveness of dialectic come from the fact that consciousness which objectifies itself faces at every stage of its development a relatively inert and recalcitrant element, a reality removed from the consciousness and alien to the subject, a reality which arises from the fact of a crude material essence or of a cultural structure which has already become autonomous or which has congealed into objective form.

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




June 24, 2019

What Is Left Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:13 am

… is the object of different actions than that of intelligence …

This is from ‘The Thing’ by Elizabeth Grosz (2001):

… The thing is what we make of the world rather than simply what we find in the world, the way we are able to manage and regulate it according to our needs and purposes (even if not, as James [suggested], at will or consciously. We cannot but perceive the world in terms of objects. We do not do so as a matter of will).

… What is left out in this process of making/reflecting is all that is in matter, all that is outside the thing and outside technology: the flux of the real, duration, vibration, contractions and dilations, the multiplicity of the real, all that is not contained in the thing or by intellectual categories. The uncontained, the outside of matter, of things, of that which is not pragmatically available for use, is the object of different actions than that of intelligence and the technological. This outside, though, is not noumenal, outside of all possible experience, but phenomenal, contained within it. It is simply that which is beyond the calculable, the framed or contained.

… This is not an error that we commit, a fault to be unlearned, but a condition of our continuing survival in the world. We could not function within this teeming multiplicity without some ability to skeletonize it, to diagram or simplify it. Yet this reduction and division occur only at a cost, which is the failure or inability of our scientific, representational and linguistic systems to acknowledge the in-between of things, the plural interconnections that cannot be utilized or contained within and by things but that makes them possible.




June 23, 2019

Into the Torrent

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:04 am

… How are we to awaken these dormant memories?

This is from The Incandescent by Michel Serres, translated by Randolph Burks (2003; 2018):

… The metaphysics of the ancient world as well as the methods of its deconstruction follow a two-valued logic, being and nothingness, false and true, good and evil, and love contradiction. They ignore noise, multicolored singularities, a thousand composite profiles, the landscapes to be sewn together, the unpredictability of the processual. World, life, existence, history and knowledge fluctuate among the four categories of modality: compatible with necessary laws, all things and lives run across the filter of the possible and impossibility towards contingency.

… When, last December, in a Museum of Natural History, I asked the attendant of the skeleton hall the age of a giant saurian, he replied:

‘One hundred twenty million years and eleven months.’ ‘How do you calculate such an exact date?’ I asked. ‘Simply,’ he said. ‘The museum hired me the middle of last winter; at that time, the pedestal read “one hundred twenty million.” Count it up; it comes out right.’

Do we date humans to be from six to nine million years plus eleven weeks? Don’t laugh, for that’s how history and the social sciences talk, disciplines which obliterate with their few seconds the entire preceding year, as we are going to calculate the situation. What skeletons are caught in this dark closet? How are we to plunge human time into the time of living creatures and of things, my granddaughter and her parents’ house into the torrent, the mountain and the Sun, my age into the age of my reptilian brain or of DNA? How are we to awaken these dormant memories?

My most recent previous post from Serres’ book is here.




June 22, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:11 am

… leaves behind … an ever-increasing sense of disappearance …

This is from the beginning of ‘Latent Archives, Roving Lens’ by Uriel Orlow (2006):

Acceleration is known to affect both time and space. It was ushered in by the Industrial Revolution, continuing in the tracks of the Enlightenment project and culminating in the much talked-of global Information Age. Acceleration not only promotes faster material and data production but also the speed and range of its delivery; it is the stepping stone of instantaneity, immediacy, novelty, economic growth and geopolitical power.

[line break added] But, and this is known too, the increasingly fast slippage of the present also amounts to an exponential gaining of weight of the past, under which our epoch so agonizes. Acceleration leaves behind a growing mountain of ‘stuff,’ results in a windfall of information and an ever-increasing sense of disappearance and obsolescence. This in turn results in an intensifying desire to capture things before they are lost for good, a general nostalgia for the past, and a self-conscious interest in, or indeed obsession with, memory both individual and collective.




June 21, 2019

An Unknown Sound

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… the object does not exist in the painting.

This is from The Art of Encounter by Lee Ufan (2018):

… It is thought that the painter’s vision is adversely affected by looking too hard at things in order to paint them, but this is probably not the way things really are. There are probably no people in the world who pretend to see but look at things so carelessly as painters. This is not because painters are fools or lazy but because their peculiar seriousness makes it difficult for them to see accurately. The more serious the painter is, the more his mind continues to seek objects that are not there while looking at an object.

… If a person cannot sense the huge gap between the thing that is there and the thing he tries to see, he is not qualified to be an artist.

This reasoning makes one wonder about the ears of the musician. Most likely, an accomplished pianist does not hear the sounds around him accurately but tries to hear a different sound, higher or lower than what he actually hears. Even though the real sounds reach his ears, he ignores them in his mind and seeks an unknown sound. The strength of the desire for the sound of the heart is a barometer of talent. Ignoring actual sounds and his own ears, he desires “more,” a better or more marvelous sound, a sound that can never be attained.

… the object does not exist in the painting. What is there is a fluid object, something that might be thought of as an indeterminate, multi-layered object in the mind’s eye. That is why it is impossible to see a painting with the physiological eye or an ambiguous actual eye. The viewer, like the painter at work on a painting, pursues an endlessly changing fantasy in front of the painting …

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




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