Unreal Nature

February 11, 2016

Easily Taken In

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… photography helps us to simplify, and to lie to ourselves about the world.

This is from the essay ‘Misunderstanding Images: Standard Operating Procedure, Errol Morris’ which is an interview between Morris and Joshua Oppenheimer, found in Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence edited by Joram ten Brink & Joshua Oppenheimer (2012):

[ … ]

Joshua Oppenheimer: In Standard Operating Procedure I have this feeling that you’ve done something that is quite profoundly similar, but also different than The Thin Blue Line in that it’s we, the public, who are the people who have misperceived the evidence. And that misperception of the Abu Ghraib photographs, which was encouraged by the government, has led us to misperceive ourselves and our own complicity or involvement or engagement in what happened, and what was continuing to happen when the film was released.

Errol Morris: One thing that’s absolutely clear to me is that the photographs worked to the advantage of the administration, and you would say, well, how could this possibly be? Wasn’t this one of the worst scandals in American history? The answer is, yes it was, but in the end, it focused attention, I believe inappropriately, on a very small group of people who were responsible for little or nothing, and directed attention away from people who were far more complicit in what happened in that prison.

Standard_operating_procedure

[ … ]

JO: Subjected to the wrong interpretive framework, the photos themselves slip into the blindspots that lie between them.

[ … ]

EM: … it’s interesting that in order to deal with history, and it probably goes well beyond photography, we have to de-contextualize it, we have to simplify it, we have to put it into some narrative form where we can understand it, because the complexities of history are just unfathomable otherwise.

… We don’t want to see a story as being grey. We want to see it as being black and white; we prefer to leave it that way, because it offers answers to our social concerns. And history, of course, falls victim to that kind of thinking, history becomes a kind of cartoon, a gross simplification of what is really happening, or what really happened. And photography helps us to simplify, and to lie to ourselves about the world.

[ … ]

EM: … the job of documentary, if there is a job, the job as I see it is to capture; you can’t ever be successful at doing this, so the futility of the attempt is also of interest, but it’s to try to the best of your abilities to capture the complexity of reality. Of incorporating something of the real world, and its complexity, that informs the story. And if you do that, that’s a noble enterprise. Simplifying things crudely to some ordinary kind of narrative doesn’t particularly interest me, because then it doesn’t really do anything different than the expected. Particularly with the narratives that will be the least controversial, and the most easily taken in.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 10, 2016

Sinister, Neurotic, Bitter, and Ironic

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… we often feel humiliated when we observe soberly the way we do live.

This is from ‘The Interiorized Academy: An Interview with Jeff Wall by Jean-François Chevrier‘ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):

[ … ]

Jeff Wall: … Today I think that each artist has become his own academy. He has internalized commands that used to come from a real social institution to which he was directly subjected without the mediation of the market. It is a kind of spiritualization of the premodern situation where society — the court, for example — had a direct use for art. Since than, the utility of art has been ambiguous and indirect. Now, you have to build a kind of institution inside your own psyche, something like a superego.

[ … ]

Jean-François Chevrier: Where is the humour noir in your work?

JW: It is everywhere. Black humor, diabolic humor, and the grotesque are very close to each other. Bakhtin talked about the “suppressed laughter” in modern culture. Things can be laughed about, but not openly. The fact that the laughter is not open gives it a sinister, neurotic, bitter, and ironic quality. It’s a kind of mannerist laughter that is similar to Jewish humor, Schadenfreude, and gallows humor. I feel that there is a kind of “suppressed laughter” running through my work, even though I am not sure when things are funny. Humour noir is not the same as the comic, although it includes the comic; it can be present when nobody seems to be laughing.

[ … ]

JW: … If you are a slave, you must always at some level wonder what it would be like to be free. In The Storyteller, for example, I attempted to create an image of a way subjected people might try to build a space for themselves. I imagined the picture as a speculative project. All my pictures about talking, about verbal communication, are in fact about the ways people work on creating something in common, about how they work to find a way to live together.

Wall_theStoryteller1986
Jeff Wall, The Storyteller, 1986

[ … ]

JW: … Bakhtin emphasizes the fact that an utterance derives not from one isolated individual but is already a response to the words of others. Thus the storyteller is not a hero separated from others by a special relation to language. I like your reference to antiquity because I feel that my work is in fact both classical and grotesque. Ancient art imagined the good society but was also open to the concept of the deformed. That is, it was able to recognize that it was not the society it could imagine. Now we are living at a moment when we have already imagined, and even in great and excessive detail, better ways of life than the one we are actually living. As a result, we often feel humiliated when we observe soberly the way we do live.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 9, 2016

Taking Upon Himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

… How strong and secure his psychic resources, his love of life, his creative energy, his sanity, to put it plainly, had to be for him not to sink irretrievably into taciturnity and catatonia, like so many human wrecks who have been reduced to a similar state.

Continuing through Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

Wolfli_portrait
portrait of Adolf Wölfli

… In 1895, at the age of thirty-one, [Adolf Wölfli] was interned for good in the Waldau Psychiatric Clinic in Bern. Pursued by ideas of persecution (which the psychiatrists considered hallucinatory!), he proved to be so quarrelsome and violent that he had to be transferred to an isolation cell, which of course only made his condition worse. “He makes such a row that he has to be locked up in his cell for weeks, stark naked,” reported one of the psychiatrists.

[line break added] Beginning in 1897, he spent twenty years alone in his cell! One night in 1899, he broke up his bedside table and with the pieces demolished first his cell door, then the window in the corridor outside. But he went no further: he made no attempt to escape and was found there in the morning, in front of the broken window, stock still, ghastly pale and covered with sweat.

That same year, 1899, he began to draw and write, and also to compose music and play it on wind instruments of his own making. At first, drawing materials were given to him sparingly, and he was continually forced to beg for scraps of paper and bits of pencil. But as soon as the doctors noticed his work, they saw to it that he was liberally supplied with the necessary materials and in the end Wölfli devoted all his time to it.

[line break added] In the course of the years he accumulated sheaves of manuscripts and drawings sprinkled with musical scores. His autobiography, written out in a calligraphic hand and ornamented with drawings on large sheets twenty inches high, makes a pile nearly six feet in height. He wrote and drew uninterruptedly until his death in 1930.

Wolfli_St_Adolf
Adolf Wölfli, St. Adolf wearing glasses, between the two giant cities of Niess and Mia, 1924

… The schizophrenic is said to “refuse reality.” Let it be admitted, with this qualification: Wölfli refused this reality because it was intolerable. Nor would it be correct to say that, in his work, he set up against it a world of his own imagining. On the contrary, he reflected it back and amplified it with insensate emphasis and reemphasis. How strong and secure his psychic resources, his love of life, his creative energy, his sanity, to put it plainly, had to be for him not to sink irretrievably into taciturnity and catatonia, like so many human wrecks who have been reduced to a similar state.

… if one is justified in adopting a pathological point of view, if one can rightly speak of autism or schizophrenia, it is with the proviso that these terms shall be applied to the pathogenic social group. Wölfli would then have to be regarded as a kind of inspired resonator, taking upon himself the general schizophrenia and reflecting it back to the limits of expression.

[line break added] Wölfli invented a language of his own to express a latent situation in which all of us are more or less consciously involved. It is not by chance that, more than any other maker of Art Brut, he came up against the police in general and the psychiatrists and psychopathologists in particular: apart from its prodigious inventiveness, his work represents the most virulent affirmation of anti-psychiatry.

Wolfli_St_Adolfs_Ballroom
Adolf Wölfli, St. Adolf’s Ball-Room, 1916

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 8, 2016

Its Own Peculiar Shape

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… his right to inconvenience a bourgeois audience in his search for authenticity — those beliefs, taken up without irony or cynicism …

Continuing through High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture by Kirk Varnedoe and Adam Gopnik (1990):

… In December, 1979, a graffiti writer put up one night, as a “window-down, whole-car” [a category of subway graffiti], a carefully rendered image of the central icon of Western art — Michelangelo’s God the Father reaching out to touch the hand of Adam. Beside it he wrote, WHAT IS ART? ~ WHY IS ART?

[line break added] The questions provide a quiet chorus to any attempt to answer the more peevish and ordinary question that we ask about subway graffiti: Is it (was it) art? For if by art we mean something that extends an accepted tradition of icons and images, and restates the inherited beliefs of our culture, then no, of course it wasn’t art.

[line break added] But if by art we mean, as we have for more than a century, a self-propelled and self-generating competition in style; a serious game that begins as an in-group game that gives meaning to the life of the maker and to his enthralled small audience, and ends by producing a new and widely shared style — well, the, of course it was art. A minor, decorative art, perhaps, no greater than that of an ordinary medieval illuminator or a Bauhaus typographic designer. But no smaller, either.

The problem, of course, is that by now we really want the concept of “art” to mean both things. We want art to remain a private, uncompromised competition in style and at the same time to become the core of an ideal of civic life. We want art to belong both to its makers and to a common culture — to be marginal and central at the same time. We want the King of Style also to be the King of our particular line. The graffiti writers could not achieve this easily, or at all, but then who could?

In the end, subway graffiti mattered less for what it “contributed” to high art than for what it said about it. Graffiti at the beginning of the century had been seen as a series of scrawls that nobody (aside from a handful of archeologists) thought had any meaningful structure at all. It required the then disruptive new vision of modernist art to make these outsider wall markings seem significant.

[line break added] As the end of the century approached, that once disruptive vision had become so deeply entrenched that it could imprint its own peculiar shape even on the way people drew marks on walls, or on the sides of subway cars. The insistence on the artist’s privileged place, on his self-definition through his participation in a restless competitive struggle for innovation, and on his right to inconvenience a bourgeois audience in his search for authenticity — those beliefs, taken up without irony or cynicism, were what made subway art different from all the other graffiti that had preceded it.

[line break added] When the subway writer A-One once explained why his work was art, not vandalism, he memorialized, perhaps for the last time, an uncritical faith in this uniquely modernist idea of achievement. “A vandal is someone who throws a brick through a window,” he said. “An artist is someone who paints a picture on the window. A great artist is someone who paints a picture on the window and then throws a brick through it.”

My most recent previous post from this book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 7, 2016

Snares So Innocent

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

Happiness was there, in fact: a happiness that protected them from everything.

This is from The Step Not Beyond by Maurice Blanchot (1992):

[ … ]

“We’ll love them.” — “We love them already.” — ‘They don’t know that we do.” — “We’re lucky they don’t.” — “They know nothing about what we expect from them.” — “They live in ignorance: this is what makes them so beautiful, so lively.” — “They’re frightening.” — “We’re frightening.” — They were young, beautiful, lively: he accepted all these words, snares so innocent even phantoms could not have let themselves be caught in them, knowing as well that plenty of other words could have been pronounced without attracting them the more or reaching them in that which preserved them.

[line break added] The only danger, danger of innocence, came from this right to be several, right which, diverting them from being one or the other, risked giving them up gently to the call that they could only hear as several: together? “We won’t see anything as beautiful as them.” — “Is this the right term?” — “They’ll be too beautiful for anyone to notice it.” — “I don’t think they’d like our arranging things in their place.” — “This place that they don’t occupy, happily.” Happiness was there, in fact: a happiness that protected them from everything. “They won’t know it, only together will they be beautiful.”

My previous post from Blanchot’s book is here.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 6, 2016

Lost Specificity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… In the context of the monolithic and standardized taste of the mass-media products, I believe these [small audience] objects will become more not less important, in response to deep human needs.

This is from the essay ‘Is Technology a New Form?’ found in Nature and Art Are Physical: Writings on Art, 1967-2008 by Rackstraw Downes (2014):

… Artistic form comes, I believe, less from facilitating tools than from the resistance of the materials to the artist’s imagination, and the artist’s ingenuity in exploiting this; it is a source of the unforeseen and the untranslatable, qualities which seem to be essential to art. In the paintings that were shown at the Paris Salon in the late nineteenth century the medium was a tool, a codified and learnable method.

[line break added] This meant that the idea and the object were separable, and the intended message of the work, no matter how noble, was trivialized by the lifeless servility of the technique. (One sees this also in the late work of Salvador Dali.) Concurrently with the Salon and in contrast to it, the Impressionists were experimental and exploratory with regard to the medium, and there is no gap between intention and execution because the former is contained in the latter.

The government sponsored Paris Salon attracted huge audiences, and the artists who showed there competed in making works which would create a public sensation. These works — “machines” as they were called — are the ancestors of the Hollywood extravaganza movie. Immensely laborious and technically sophisticated, they are both consciously directed at, in TV lingo, the ‘end-user.’ The Impressionists, who eschewed or were excluded from the Salon, exhibited their works with small independent dealers, in improvised spaces and in private auctions.

[line break added] Their art put exigency concerning the form-demands of its own internal nature first, and made no attempt to address a mass audience. The fact that it eventually, and so conspicuously, reached one is a paradox nicely articulated by Gertrude Stein who, when asked how she got to be so famous, said: “By writing for a very small audience.”

These are the roots of our present situation. George Orwell, who believed that modern prose writing was essentially the prose of personal conscience — he described it as “Protestant” — foresaw (with horror) the novel written by Committee, in which the individual conscience played no part. Hollywood and television have given us the equivalent. The mass circulation magazine, homogenously edited for a targeted audience, is another example, as is the ‘blockbuster’ museum show.

[line break added] At the same time these phenomena have given rise to their opposites: the underground movie, the small publishing house, the alternative exhibition space, all of which foster what I call the high exigency, small-audience art object. In the context of the monolithic and standardized taste of the mass-media products, I believe these objects will become more not less important, in response to deep human needs.

The power of technology to produce what appears to be exactly the same image, on any scale at any time at any number of places, is impressive; but the sacrifice in terms of lost specificity is enormous.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 5, 2016

This Way Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… the way out transfers from the tunnel to the ceiling prior to never having been.

Continuing through Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination by Steven Connor (2014):

Beckett’s work often deals in notions, propositions, data, in the strict sense of that which is given. ‘That then is the proposition. To one on his back in the dark, a voice tells of a past.’ Getting, or keeping things going, is a matter of ‘notions’ being maintained.

… The first thing we learn [in The Lost Ones] about the belief is that it fluctuates, but with a sort of permanently recurring rhythm: ‘From time immemorial rumor has it or better still the notion is abroad that there exists a way out. Those who no longer believe so are not immune from believing so again in accordance with the notion requiring as long as it holds that here all should die but in so gradual and to put it plainly so fluctuant a manner as to escape the notice even of a visitor.’ The belief also gives rise to sectarian rivalry, rendered with mock-scholarly solemnity as though they were the terms of a medieval disquisition:

Regarding the nature of this way out and of its location two opinions divide without opposing all those still loyal to that old belief. One school swears by a secret passage branching from one of the tunnels and leading in the words of the poet to nature’s sanctuaries. The other dreams of a trapdoor hidden in the hub of the ceiling giving access to a flue at the end of which the sun and other stars would still be shining.

… though we have earlier been assured that ‘it is doubtful that such a one exists,’ the conviction grows that there is a logic, and even a providence, in this shift from belief in a way out via the tunnels to a way out through the roof:

For those who believe in a way out possible of access as via a tunnel it would be and even without any thought of putting it to account may be tempted by its quest. Whereas the partisans of the trapdoor are spared this demon by the fact that the hub of the ceiling is out of reach. Thus by insensible degrees the way out transfers from the tunnel to the ceiling prior to never having been.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 4, 2016

Trapped by the Camera

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The camera has stimulated some kind of penetration to places she didn’t really acknowledge that she would go to.

This is from the essay ‘The Killer’s Search for Absolution: Z32, Avi Mograbi’ which is an interview between Mograbi and Joram ten Brink, found in Killer Images: Documentary Film, Memory and the Performance of Violence edited by Joram ten Brink & Joshua Oppenheimer (2012):

[ … ]

Joram ten Brink: The film [Z32] itself is such a radical shift from your initial idea, as you said. What you achieved here is a much more complex structure which actually gets us to a much more accurate understanding of the state of mind of a killer. Four ‘characters’ tell the story: the songs, the soldier, the girlfriend, and the film, as a film. There are four attempts to look at the story through different characters and protagonists. Although the girlfriend is in essence the protagonist of the film, we’ll come back to her later …

Avi Mograbi: She’s the most important. Without her …

JtB: Without her there’s no film.

AM: Yes. And it wasn’t my idea to put her in the film.

JtB: She’s the audience. She is ‘me,’ the viewer.

AM: Yes, yes. She’s you, but not the obvious you. Not the ‘Israeli.’ Most Israelis don’t identify with her. They identify with him. But yes, she’s definitely the audience, definitely the listener; the listener who asks difficult questions.

JtB: In the last shot, she brings the film back to me when she turns to the camera and looks at me.

AM: Yes. She looks at the millions watching her at home.

JtB: She hears the story and she cannot make sense of it. She refuses up until the last moment to forgive him and you don’t know if she will ever forgive him. She doesn’t say anything.

AM: She looks at the camera …

JtB: She looks at the camera, and says, ‘What do you think? Now you’ve seen the film; I presented it to you for the past ninety minutes, now what do you think? You, the viewer?

AM: I think she also looks at the camera as a kind of enemy because she’s trapped by the camera. … The camera has done much more than just be present in a private or intimate moment. The camera has stimulated some kind of penetration to places she didn’t really acknowledge that she would go to.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 3, 2016

De-identifications and Reidentifications

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… I thought you did not permit the work to be in a sea of meanings in which spectators could fish at random.

This is from ‘Representation, Suspicions, and Critical Transparency: An Interview with Jeff Wall by T.J. Clark, Claude Gintz, Serge Guilbaut, and Anne Wagner’ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):

[ … ]

Jeff Wall: … There are no closed works of art, really. My experience of the works that I have really admired is a kind of out-of-body experience. That is, it’s a kind of phenomenology of identification and dis-identification which is continuously happening, and which is essential to the experience, and even the possibility of experience.

[ … ]

JW: … [I]n general my primary objective is to create a sort of identity crisis with the viewer in some form, maybe even a subliminal one. I do go through a sort of continuous process of “imagining the viewer.” I think all artists, in the process of making a work, hypothesize an audience, invent an imaginary audience which is exactly the one which will appreciate that work profoundly. When Stendhal dedicated The Red and the Black to “the happy few” he was doing that. This is a utopia of artists, the hypothetical world and its imaginary population.

Another way of looking at it is that one sets in motion a sequence of identifications, recognitions, misrecognitions, de-identifications and reidentifications, in which the audience is continually decomposed, fractured, reformed, and reidentified with itself. Anybody who has had a long relationship with a work of art knows how that happens over time.

Serge Guilbaut: I thought your work was precisely different from that attitude. I thought that in fact what made its force was the rejection of the love affair with the floating signifier. I thought you did not permit the work to be in a sea of meanings in which spectators could fish at random.

JW: No, I don’t mean it that way. I think that this process of misrecognition, of a crisis of identification in relation to representations, happens in all experience, even in personal or interpersonal experience. In that sense, it is objective, a condition of experience as well as a content of it.

The fact that I accept the fact that viewers of works cannot be marshalled into seeing the work in any specified way doesn’t mean that I accept the idea that no signification necessarily means anything specific. There’s a difference between the two attitudes. The process of experience of a work, while it must be open to the associations brought to it by different people, is still structured and regulated and contains determinations. I think it is controlled, above all, by genre, by the generic character of the picture types and the types of subjects.

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

February 2, 2016

Respiration of the Spaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

…they reveal a crafty deliberation, slyly inverting their terms and willfully throwing their mechanisms of communication out of gear.

Continuing through Art Brut by Michel Thévoz (1995):

… whenever they take to writing, makers of Art Brut are inclined to emphasize the actual letters of words and disrupt their linear arrangement, as if by such distortions they were confusedly trying to work their way back to the original continuity between picturing and writing. Or are these irregularities to be attributed to a simple inability to withdraw from the body space and enter into the logical and atopical relations which govern alphabetic writing?

[line break added] For the typographical system is based essentially on the standardization and ordered sequence of the signs, leaving out of account their position on the field of the sheet. In a page of writing, the position of a word at the beginning or end of a page or line is a matter of chance, independent of the meaning and immaterial to it.

[line break added] Now in the writings of Constance Schwarzlin, Palanc, Gustav or Teresa Ottalo, one is made keenly aware of the distortion of the letters, the fluctuation of the lines, the general respiration of the spaces, the pause of the blanks, the erection of the text — in short, a perverse eroticization of what should be considered as the signs constituting a purely logical relation. Alphabetical writing, which appeared to have accomplished the desexualization of words, thus becomes paradoxically the object of a libidinal reinvestment, and what was bodily suppressed reappears in the very signs of its obliteration.

So we might apply to the makers of Art Brut in general what was said in connection with Jules Doudin: their disregard of spelling and lettering involves too many disruptions on the level of meaning for it to be considered a simple matter of mental inability. The very reverse is true: in their handling of the different languages (oral, written, figurative) they reveal a crafty deliberation, slyly inverting their terms and willfully throwing their mechanisms of communication out of gear.

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

-Julie

http://www.unrealnature.com/

 

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