Unreal Nature

September 30, 2019

Over-nudging the Audience

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… it is highly undemocratic to deny people that initial experience of alienation that is the predicate for creating their own place in these works.

This is from From the Masterpieces to Rooms Full of Art — and Back? by Robert Storr (2017):

… [In 1993] I showed [Robert Ryman’s] work without any labelling, which was unheard of in major museums at that time. The idea was to explore how the public would respond in an exhibition if they did not have any labels to read. What would they do if it was not explained to them? It was, in an institutional way, a critique of museums’ lack of faith in the work itself, which they ascribe to the audience instead of acknowledging that their own institutional lack of faith is the problem.

… The point here is that when the public is thrown into a situation without an institutionally provided lifeline that is easy to grab and hold onto then if they do not bolt right away they will, sooner or later, get around to just looking. Really looking rather than rushing up to the label to see what the commentary has to say or reading a date they do not really care about and will not remember or a name they cannot pronounce.

[line break added] They will begin to try and find their natural distance from the object and to scan it for information, for ways in which they might assimilate something related to it, so that they will not feel so uncomfortable. Once they stop feeling the completely understandable discomfort that strange new things almost inevitably inspire, they will start to see more, and once they see more they will want more.

[line break added] These are lessons too many of us have forgotten. In the desire to be user-friendly and educational — which is often manifested in a way that is not education at all but is simply a form of marketing — we have lost faith in the general public. We have lost faith that they could actually find a place in modern or any other kind of art that is their own and that will bring them back over and over again to see more.

Often these strategies of over-speaking, over-interpreting and over-nudging the audience are presented as a kind of democratic concern for people who do not know how to deal with the material. In fact it is the inverse: it is highly undemocratic to deny people that initial experience of alienation that is the predicate for creating their own place in these works.

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




September 29, 2019

The Wedding from Which My Body Came

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… Culture leaves a local that I can no longer define so much does its size diminish, … a place so exiguous it is sometimes reduced to a point …

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

… Never did I feel more Gascon, more French, than at the other end of the other hemisphere.

Towards a first limit, the multicolored multiplicity arouses singularity, strengthens it, as though this singularity gave its main color to the whole of the painting. At the other limit, it rejoins universality. You as well as me, her as well as him, African or Eskimo, let’s present such a many-shaded palette to everyone. Humanity arrays itself with bright colors. You will recognize it by this harlequinade. The distinctive feature of humankind? This sort of mixture.

… So universal humanity becomes that virginity that was received at birth, achieved at death and whose plastic becoming we recognize in ourselves.

… my father, born in Gascony on the river Garonne not far from the confluence with the Gers, between two catastrophic floods, was often opposed to my mother, stemming from Quercy, by the dry and pebbly hills of vineyards, like a foreigner to an exotic woman, distant from one another by thirty kilometers, which in the past was equivalent to an astronomical distance.

[line break added] Since they loved each other, they adapted to each other; since they adapted to each other, they loved each other. But when they argued for a little bit, each reverted to their own dialect, for they didn’t quite have the same words said with the same accent to designate bread and salt. Although nurtured on a tiny particularism, I nevertheless experienced what the latest racists today call the clash of civilizations.

[line break added] The smallest municipality is granitized with sub-localities the way an atom is composed of dozens of particles. There is no Occitan or Gascon language, strictly speaking, but a multiplicity of subdialects, the dentals of the one sometimes being opaque to the ears of the other; so there is no local culture in the above sense but rather a spectrum of nanocultures scattered from Bas-Quercy to north of Moyenne Garonne, and this is still too big.

Consequently, culture, even in the second meaning, doesn’t stop at the borders of Quercy, of Berber country or the Zulu mountains because it has its source there, as though tied to a place, already composite, where it would quickly suffocate with lethargy by becoming atomized into tiny hamlets, but throws out around it random roads [that] geometers call analytic continuations and, happily, crosses the thirty kilometers separating Quercy from Gascony so as to end up at the wedding from which my body came.

[line break added] Culture leaves a local that I can no longer define so much does its size diminish, from the region to the village and from the lieu-dit to the farm, all the way down to families whose generations invent words only belonging to them, leaves, yes, a place so exiguous it is sometimes reduced to a point …

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




September 28, 2019

Narrative of Anticipated Use

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… Everyday design catches the narrative and pins it down …

This is from Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture by Tim Ingold (2013):

… the foresight of the watchmaker is of a very different kind from that which the argument from design attributes to the designer. It lies not in the cognition that literally comes before sight but in the very activity of seeing forward, not in preconception but in what the sociologist Richard Sennett, in his study of the work of the craftsman, calls anticipation: being ‘always one step ahead of the material.’

… ‘If the mind wants to be involved in the process of making,’ writes design theorist Lars Spuybroek, ‘it must not only be open but forward-looking, in the direction of as-yet-unknown creation.’ This is a matter not of predetermining the final forms of things and all the steps needed to get there, but of opening up a path and improvising a passage. To foresee in this sense, is to see into the future, not to project a future state of affairs in the present; it is to look where you are going, not to fix an end point. Such foresight is about prophecy, not prediction. And it is precisely what enables practitioners to carry on.

To make a watch takes time. This time is not incidental or collapsible into an instant or series of instants. It is rather a time of growth or formation, of ontogenesis. Thus the designing of the watch continues into its making — in the ways the pieces assembled there answer to one another in the generation of internal coherence. What the maker has to hand to begin with are cogs and springs, among other minute pieces. These pieces do not belong together in preordained positions by dint of some external necessity.

[line break added] They are no more parts of a watch than are twigs on the forest floor parts of a bird’s nest. Rather, as with the nest, pieces become parts only as the assembly proceeds and tends increasingly to cohere. They gradually acquire a feel for each other, they settle, holding each other in place ever more tightly as the work advances asymptotically towards closure without ever absolutely reaching it.

[line break added] The task of the maker is to bring the pieces into a sympathetic engagement with one another so that they can begin — as I would say — to correspond. Peering through his eyeglass, the watchmaker inhabits a realm in among the pieces rather than above and beyond them, adjusting each in relation to the others and serving as a kind of go-between in their correspondence.

… What Norman calls ‘the design of everyday things’ does not, then, achieve its ends with their manufacture. For them to be things at all, and not objects, requires that they be brought into a relation with one another — into a correspondence — that is itself defined by a narrative of anticipated use. Everyday design catches the narrative and pins it down, establishing a kind of choreography for the ensuing performance …

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




September 27, 2019

By the Living

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… “The dead can live only with the exact intensity and quality of the life imparted to them by the living.”

This is from Writing Lives: Principia Biographica by Leon Edel (1984; 1959):

… A biography is a record, in words, of something that is as mercurial and as flowing, as compact of temperament and emotion, as the human spirit itself.

The writer of biography must be neat and orderly and logical in describing this elusive flamelike human spirit which delights in defying order and neatness and logic. The biographer may be as imaginative as he pleases — the more imaginative the better — in the way in which he brings together his materials, but he must not imagine the materials. He must read himself into the past; but he must also read the past into the present. He must judge the facts, but he must not sit in judgment. He must respect the dead — but he must tell the truth.

… What is the essence of life, and how do we disengage that essence from the eternal clutter of days and years, the inexorable tick of the clock — and yet restore the sense of that very tick?

… Let us image the great table of biography — for biographers need larger tables or desks than most writers. It is piled high with books and papers: certificates of birth and death, genealogies, photos of deeds, letters — letters filled with rationalizations and subterfuges, exaggerations and wishful thinking, deliberate falsehoods, elaborate politenesses — and then, testimonials, photographs, manuscripts, diaries, notebooks, bank checks, newspaper clippings, as if we had poured out the contents of desk drawers or of old boxes in an attic:

[line break added] a great chaotic mass of materials, not to forget volumes of memoirs by contemporaries — how they abound in some cases! — and the diaries and notebooks of these contemporaries, and often biographies of the subject written by other hands. All this material, assembled out of the years, will make its way into the mind — and the heart — of the person who has gathered it.

… the living, associating, remembering biographer’s mind seeks to restore a time sense to the mass of data that has become timeless. “The dead,” said Joseph Conrad, “can live only with the exact intensity and quality of the life imparted to them by the living.”

My previous post from Edel’s book is here.




September 26, 2019

It Brings Absence Closer

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:01 am

… Identity can always be past whereas intimacy can only ever be present.

This is from Portrait by Jean-Luc Nancy, translated by Sarah Clift and Simon Sparks (2018):

… The movement from the icon to the portrait is exactly that from divine presence, offered in the face of its own absence (for which words are not lacking because it is itself the movement of the Word and the Spirit), to a “desacralized” figure, that is, a figure opened onto the silence of its own absent presence. So far as this presence is concerned, it is a matter of drawing out its trace in every singular face. We need not, therefore, speak of the “sacred”; rather it is simply a matter of drawing out the trace of presence, of drawing or recalling the intimate trace of its passion.

… The portrait is less the recollection of a (memorable) identity than it is the recollection of an (immemorial) intimacy. Identity can always be past whereas intimacy can only ever be present.

… The portrait did not appear in order to recall the memory of cherished or admired lives (the portrait is not a monument and when it is, it is already well on the way to being a portrait no longer). It appears in order to recall the subject to itself, in order to bring about its infinite return to itself.

The portrait does not recall a distant present; rather, it brings absence closer, so close that its call is silent.

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




September 25, 2019

The Measure of Man

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… “I want to erase my presence.”

This is from Nancy Spector’s essay in Gabriel Orozco: Asterisms (2012):

… Think of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (ca. 1487), the renowned anatomical drawing of a naked body inscribed inside a circle and square to reveal its geometrically precise proportions, which provided the primary source of proportion for the classical orders of architecture.

[line break added] For Leonardo, the concordance between the human body, nature, and architecture could be extended to the cosmos in the belief that the measure of man offered an analogy to the workings of the universe. The centrality of man is also obvious when it comes to taxonomic thought, given that all classification systems are ultimately subjective and arbitrary. They only exist as reflections of our heuristic perspectives on the natural world.

Orozco extracts the evidence of his physical presence from all his works even though it is everywhere implied. In a practice that is largely performative and process oriented, Orozco’s own physical engagement is a given, but it is really the absence of his form and any sense of specific identity that defines the overall aesthetic of the work. This idea is embodied in the wall drawing Estrela (2005), a large circular form created by the artist’s outstretched arms tracing arcs in space.

[line break added] Photographs of its making show Orozco in the center of this imperfect circle, Vitruvian-like, marking the trajectory of two lines that eventually meet. But the finished work is an empty vessel, the aftermath of an action. In English, estrela means “wake,” as in the force of water left behind a speeding boat. This line drawing is what Orozco leaves behind for us, the viewer, to inhabit and contemplate.

[line break added] His motivation is antiauthoritative; by effacing his presence, there is space and time left for his audience to complete the work. “I think it is better,” he once explained, “to empty … space of the actual body. Then that space can be reactivated, so everyone might occupy it for themselves. I want to open up that space as recipient for the spectator to occupy. I want to erase my presence.”




September 24, 2019

Consumer Value

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:08 am

… Of course, a work of art does not belong to the person who buys the canvas on which it is painted.

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

… Before the bourgeois era of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, which found its expression in romanticism, no one came face to face with the fact that works of art have a market price and that their ideal value is linked to a consumer value. And ever since, the only people who have protested against this conjunction and against the principle of the derivation of values from needs are those who profit from their ideological separation.

[line break added] It is only when we try to smuggle in a hidden ideology into people’s consciousness that we begin to awaken doubts about the character of the embodiment of “ideal values” as labor in the form of marketable goods. The extension of the rules of labor to art is in no way synonymous with the narrowing of the concept of a salable art product to that of a commodity. If we were to write books only in order to sell them through publishers and booksellers, literature would certainly be subsumed by the concept of the commodity, just as painting would be subsumed under craft if the painter were aiming at reproducing a salable object in as many examples as he could sell.

… Expression, communication, repetition, reproduction take us further and further from the inwardness, the uniqueness of the creative experience by making it available to ever wider circles. An ambivalent character is linked to this function in the trade in works of art. It isolates an art-buying elite from the museum-visiting crowds who at best buy reproductions, but at the same time democratizes the art purchasers by increasing the community of connoisseurs through the growing circle of those who possess works of art. There is no doubt that the possession of works of art is a strong impulse to a deeper understanding of art.

… Of course, a work of art does not belong to the person who buys the canvas on which it is painted. Anyone who has appreciated a painting with understanding, with a feeling for its quality, and with insight into its structure can possess it more completely than the purchaser who puts it into his collection as a new acquisition. It can no more be possessed merely by buying it than a literary or musical work can be possessed as book or score.

… However important the institution of the art trade may be as a means of communication between artistic production and reception, the determination of price on the art market has more to do with fashion, rarity, prestige, investment, and ostentation than with that quality which determines artistic reception. It is the business of the art dealer and of his manipulation of the public, not of the artist and his world.

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




September 23, 2019

Whether You Like It or Not

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… They are irritated by something they see …

This is from From the Masterpieces to Rooms Full of Art — and Back? by Robert Storr (2017):

… Edmund Burke wrote of the difference between beauty and the sublime; for him the sublime is bigger than us, unpredictable and potentially threatening. We do not tire of the sublime because we must remain alert in its presence, whereas we may get used to looking at beauty, which is smooth and proportionate, and eventually lose interest. Many modern artists deliberately put you in this same predicament, emphasizing things that are alien and overwhelming, things that will have a disturbing effect on you whether you like it or not.

[line break added] Museum curators can orchestrate those different factors in the quality, intent and clarity of works of art which are good enough to be worth our attention but that may not all be great. Interspersed with works that almost indisputably are, they remind the viewer that not everything is a masterpiece and that there is real value in art that is lesser. The minor masters are often the masters we come back to with the greatest affection, even though the major masters should theoretically absorb the whole of our attention.

… if visitors go to museums trying to find answers to the riddles of art history they are going for the wrong reason. If they go there to begin to problematize their own taste, to problematize the explanations they have been given by other people for why this work exists, they will have a very good time. They will also learn a lot and begin a process that will continue far past that particular encounter. Most importantly, they are more likely to come back.

… The real audience may come for the blockbuster, but it returns again and again for more of what perplexed it the first time. In my experience, people come to MoMA repeating the same things that skeptics always say: they talk about the emperor’s new clothes, they protest that ‘my kid could do that’ and soon. They are irritated by something they see and because they do not have the apparatus to deal with it they mutter the same clichés. But they stay, they come back and eventually they ask themselves, ‘Why would anybody have made that thing that way?’ And once they begin to speculatively answer their own questions, all manner of things come together.

My previous post from Storr’s book is here.




September 22, 2019

The Slow Patience of Our Contingencies

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… parching or flooding the rare lands that are erased, revised, transcribed …

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

… our white, infinite and symbolic species cannot avoid frustration, its daily bread. Who or what can fill our desires? Who, even filled with riches, hasn’t at some time experienced in his flesh that humans are more often fed by privation than by satisfaction? That they drew what they did best from this inexhaustible spring? That hundreds of thousands of years have trained their metabolism for lack, hunger, shortage, dearth, scarcity? That obesity overburdens and kills us?

[ … ]

… So we take up again, over a longer duration, the slow patience of our contingencies. Thus the self is founded in the work of time and assembled like a work that grows, in turn, like the destiny of a life. All of them together begin with blessed encounters, at random, and develop by epigeneses.

[line break added] Like the self and time, the work advances, falls back, never linearly, bifurcates, returns back along itself, sleeps, dreams, rests, explodes for a long while, suddenly empties, often becomes muddled, and also fills with hopes that die and unpredictabilities that shoot up like jets of water, abundant for a long time and gone dry the following day, parching or flooding the rare lands that are erased, revised, transcribed, the mixed places, the whole coded on an initial whiteness. Contingent, time and the self expand or collapse like the work.

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




September 21, 2019

Bound to Leak

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:12 am

… There is inevitably a ‘kink’ … between the world and our idea of it …

This is from Making: Anthropology, Archaeology, Art and Architecture by Tim Ingold (2013):

… If the activities of residence are truly distinct from and consequential upon those of building, then there must be some determinate point at which the building is finished — when building yields a building — which means, in turn, that its form must be judged as the realization of a pre-existing design. This is precisely the judgment that is entailed in regarding the building as an instance of architecture.

It has, of course, long been the conceit of the architectural profession that all the creative work that goes into the fashioning of a building is concentrated in the process of design, and that the subsequent phase of construction adds up to little more than its realization in the proverbial “bricks and mortar” of the built environment.

… Yet buildings are part of the world, and the world will not stop still but ceaselessly unfolds along its innumerable paths of growth, decay and regeneration, regardless of the most concerted of human attempts to nail it down, or to cast it in fixed and final forms. There is inevitably a ‘kink,’ as [Stewart] Brand calls it, between the world and our idea of it: ‘the idea is crystalline, the fact is fluid.’ Builders, in practice if not in principle, inhabit this kink, and so do residents.

… nothing better exemplifies the mismatch between the perceptions of the architect-designer and those of the resident-builder than their respective attitudes to rainfall. Within the formal world of architectural design, rain is simply unimaginable. Falling raindrops and the rivulets of running water to which they give rise when they impact upon surfaces cannot be part of any plan. Nor is the geometric purity of the modern architect’s conception to be clouded by prospects of stormy weather. But with its clean lines, sharp angles and flat surfaces, any building constructed in accordance with this conception is almost bound to leak.

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




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