Unreal Nature

November 25, 2015

Is There Warning?

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… And now, a dress, Louise, and a yellow chair.

This first is from Gerry Badger’s essay in Peter Fraser (2006):

… I once attended a dinner party where Peter Fraser stated that he was trying to make ‘four-dimensional photographs.’

… To photograph an object — say a paper aeroplane — and in so doing label it as such, goes only so far.

… From the contradictory union of opposites derives the notion that things can be known only through their association with other things. A tree, for example, is known as a tree because there are other things — plants, animals, timber products — to differentiate and define it. If there were only large trees, one would not know small tree and so on. And from the basic concept of ‘tree’ derives a matrix of complex relationships that eventually would encompass the whole world.


The following is from the ‘Afterword’ by Maureen O. Paley (with Fraser) in Two Blue Buckets: Photographs by Peter Fraser (1988):

Two blue buckets. What actually happens?

What happens is not seeing, it’s like being punched.
It’s a moment when everything stands still.

It’s a moment?

A precise sense of being in a certain place at a certain time.

Is there warning?

Yes. As enveloping as a smell in the air.

And now?

And now, a dress, Louise, and a yellow chair.




November 24, 2015

To Inhabit Them

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

Ladder, 1978

… There are twenty crucial minutes in the evolution of each of my paintings. The closer I get to that time — those twenty minutes — the more intensely subjective I become — but the more objective too. Your eye gets sharper; you become continuously more and more critical.

There is no measure I can hold on to except this scant half-hour of making.

… Human consciousness moves, but it is not a leap: it is one inch. One inch is a small jump, but that jump is everything. You can go way out, and then you have to come back — to see if you can move that inch. — Philip Guston, 1965


… Yes — I too puzzle over “meanings” — I mean the linkage of images when they are together in a certain way and then how all changes, when in another combination on the wall. Last month, trying to select nine or ten paintings from about forty for [the] McKee show, I shifted pictures around for days and nights, reeling from the diverse possible meanings the pictures possess when in different image relationships.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] But that is the potency of image making — it’s as if we are dense — swamped — image-ridden — we teem with meanings “constantly.” So the “WHAT” is never settled. Of course never can be. There are days when in a kind of half-awake state, the images of one painting move into another. I don’t myself know what is where — nothing to do with separate pictures anymore but a sort of confused swarm where everything can become everything else — in a split second.

[line break added] I “panic” and hate it and desire it to stop fully as much as I love and need it and want to continue endlessly. The “curse” of image making — as if one wants to gorge and eat up the world — a hunger — but then also deep down is another hunger — for some “peace” — detachment — for a single form which might “contain” so much multiplicity. Is that possible? — Philip Guston, 1976


… It’s a long, long preparation for a few moments of innocence. — Philop Guston, 1978

Pyramid and Shoe, 1977

The following, and the Guston quotes, above, are found in Philip Guston by Robert Storr (1986):

… In his brief essay The Eye and the Mind, the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote, “Science manipulates things but refuses to inhabit them.” To the degree that much postwar art has distanced itself from its sources or sought to emulate the objectivity of science by confining itself to the task of isolating painting’s essential properties, the same might be said of it, that it “manipulates things but refuses to inhabit them.”

[line break added] Guston, however, did not conceive of painting as an essentially formal enterprise, nor did he simply “borrow” ideas and images from the various traditions on which he drew. For Guston, painting was not so much made as lived; it was a process of perpetual metamorphosis that revealed and transformed the identity of the artist as he confronted the mutable reality of his materials and of the world that surrounded him.

Couple in Bed, 1977




November 23, 2015

Links in the Light-Bulb Chain

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… “It is the adjustment of impurities …” … both an image of the familiar, and a vision of the unknown.

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

… [Guston’s] moment of crisis in the mid-sixties is often interpreted as a desire to reattach art to life — a move toward “realism” and the “figure” over “abstraction,” but the truth seems very different. What Guston needed, like so many damaged and visionary old men, was above all a private style. And by then abstraction had become irrevocably public: the official style of a staggeringly successful art culture.

… Two motifs in particular came to be of supreme importance for Guston: the naked light bulb, dangling from its segmented metal chain — a light and a noose at once — and the insect like assemblage of naked, hairy legs with oversized feet turned up to reveal the cobbled, nailed sole.

Sleeping, 1977

… Almost all of the catalog of symbols that possessed him in the last decade — the light bulb, the big, upturned sole, the hairy leg — derive from comic-book sources; the oversize upturned cobbled sole first appears in Fisher’s comics, the bare bulb and the stubbled faces each with a cigarette butt planted dumbly in the mouth appear regularly in the work of Ahern and Wolverton; the Cyclops, as we have seen, derives from Capp, while, as Robert Storr had observed, the clown-like gloved hands and skinny legs with big shoes derive from Gottfredson’s version of Mickey Mouse.

Guston put on the mask of Bud Fisher for the same reason that Beckett put on the deadpan of Buster Keaton. Both artists had the insight to see in a popular style an undercurrent of dread which could be magnified, cultivated, reimagined, and expanded, and still remain strangely comic, tender, and unpretentious.

In this sense, Guston’s work is closer in spirit to the Johns of Alley Oop than it is to anything in Lichtenstein or Oldenburg. The language of American comics becomes a diction for private poetry. Johns and Guston both emerge in the aftermath of achievement, from an acute consciousness of the greatness, at once liberating and imprisoning, of American abstract painting. Yet the dialogue between private and public which Johns expressed as a muted koan becomes in Guston an absurd expressionist tragedy.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Guston never forsook his gift for pure painting, or his control over “epic” size canvases. In fact, his late paintings, far from having the flat or impersonal surfaces of Pop, have an impassioned richness of surface, a mix of butter-cream and blood, as luxurious as anything in his delicate abstract pictures. For all the suggestive relationship between Crumb and Guston, it is here that they are most different. In Crumb’s art, the tension is between Kurtzman and Superman. Guston’s art is built around an argument between Ahern and Goya. (And, in this way, Guston’s art resembles Goya’s, for Goya’s art, after all, was structured by a dialog between Gillray and Velasquez.)

[line break added] In paintings, like the late Pull, the comic book images have been isolated, reduced, purified, and made into heralds of death. They display at once a death-knell feeling for the pathos of the small, repeated, and segmented stroke — the nails on the sole, the links in the light-bulb chain struck like a tolling bell — and also for the grand organ peal, the big, melodramatic gesture. Very little art in this century has been so intensely polarized, but few modern pictures have made so operatic a case that painting, as Guston put it prophetically, long before he abandoned abstraction, “is impure. It is the adjustment of impurities which forces its continuity.”

[line break added] Lichtenstein and Warhol had still had an odd residual and not quite conscious faith in a kind of purity, and had invented imaginary pop universes of clean, unmediated gestures. The intensity of Guston’s faith in the power of impurity produced paintings that have some of the concentration of great religious art. Looking at Guston’s work, as Robert Storr has written, “We confront them now with the same puzzlement that Guston himself felt each morning looking at the accomplishment of the night before, seeing both an image of the familiar, and a vision of the unknown.

Pull, 1979

… The greatness of Pollock and de Kooning had lain in the dialog in their art between existential angst and decorative luxuriance. Guston rejected the decorative swoon altogether. Only by pushing his essentially literal gift all the way into the most banal kind of illustration could he find an original style.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




November 22, 2015

Through My Silent Mediation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… has nevertheless maintained within his effacement the authority of a power, the decision to be silent, so that in this silence what speaks without beginning or end can take on form, coherence and meaning.

This is from the essay ‘The Essential Solitude’ found in The Gaze of Orpheus and other essays by Maurice Blanchot, translated by Lydia Davis (1981):

… When Rilke writes … ” … at last my solitude has closed in and I am in my work like a pit in its fruit,” the solitude he speaks of is not essentially solitude: it is self-communion.

In the solitude of the work — the work of art, the literary work — we see a more essential solitude. It excludes the self-satisfied isolation of individualism, it is unacquainted with the search for difference; it is not dissipated by the fact of sustaining a virile relationship in a task that covers the mastered extent of the day. The person who is writing the work is thrust to one side, the person who has written the work is dismissed. What is more, the person who is dismissed does not know it. This ignorance saves him, diverts him and allows him to go on. The writer never knows if the work is done. What he has finished in one book, he begins again or destroys in another.

… the work of art, the literary work — is neither finished, nor unfinished; it is. What it says is exclusively that: that it is — and nothing more.

… The work can have no proof, just as it can have no use. It cannot be verified — truth can lay hold of it, renown illuminate it: this existence concerns it not at all, this obviousness makes it neither certain nor real, nor does it make it manifest.

… To write is to make oneself the echo of what cannot stop talking — and because of this, in order to become its echo, I must to a certain extent impose silence on it. To this incessant speech I bring the decisiveness, the authority of my own silence. Through my silent mediation, I make perceptible the uninterrupted affirmation, the giant murmur in which language, by opening, becomes image, becomes imaginary, an eloquent depth, an indistinct fullness that is empty. The source of this silence is the self-effacement to which the person who writes is invited.

… When we admire the tone of a work, responding to the tone as what is most authentic about it, what are we referring to? Not the style, and not the interest and the quality of the language, but precisely the silence, the virile force through which the person who writes, having deprived himself of himself, having renounced himself, has nevertheless maintained within his effacement the authority of a power, the decision to be silent, so that in this silence what speaks without beginning or end can take on form, coherence and meaning.

Tone is not the voice of the writer, but the intimacy of the silence he imposes on speech, which makes this silence still his own, what remains of himself in the discretion that sets him to one side. Tone makes the great writers, but perhaps the work is not concerned about what makes them great.

In the effacement to which he is invited, the “great writer” still restrains himself: what speaks is no longer himself, but it is not the pure slipping of the speech of no one. Of the effaced “I,” it retains the authoritarian, though silent affirmation. It retains the cutting edge, the violent rapidity of active time, of the instant. This is how he is preserved inside the work, is contained where there is no more restraint. But because of this the work, too, retains a content; it is not completely interior to itself.

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




November 21, 2015

Acts of Disremembering

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… the images begin to transform into others, showing the actual consumption of one memory or totem by the next.

This is from the essay ‘The Process of Change: Landscape, Memory, Animation, and Felix in Exile’ by Staci Boris, found in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago’s catalog William Kentridge (2001):

Pierneef’s landscapes of the 1950s illustrate the “myth born of a naturalized connection between Afrikaner volk and their land. The deep V-perspective of Pierneef’s landscapes, the simplification of form, the stark monumentality suggesting a comprehensible order are the very means and metaphor of a Calvinist fundamentalism.” Pierneef’s palette of lavenders, pinks, and yellows, as well as his artificial stylization of the topography, literally and metaphorically mold the land into a form compatible with nationalistic attitudes, letting desire and fantasy (read: entitlement) appear as fact.

early (1928) Pierneef

Kentridge believed these works to be “deliberate acts of disremembering” as they bore no traces of history nor any resemblance to the South African landscape of his own experience: “I had not seen, and in many ways feel I have not yet seen, a picture that corresponds to what the South African landscape feels like. I suppose my understanding of the countryside is an essentially urban one. It has to do with visions from the roadside, with landscape that is articulated, or given a meaning by incidents across it, pieces of civil engineering, the lines of pipes, culverts, fences.”

[line break added to make this easier to read online] He adopted a strategy of driving prescribed distances into the countryside and drawing that which presented itself. This experiment proved to him that wherever he went, whichever direction he followed, the traces of human intervention were inescapable and were, in fact, the most compelling and relevant parts of his environs. The South Africa of his drawings and films resists the consummate “Africa as Eden” of his artistic predecessors …


Kentridge’s landscapes not only represent the disorderliness of a person’s thoughts but also recall a theoretical model of forgetting in which each bit of memory is stored, until it is eventually displaced by another. This concept suggests that memories are not categorized, they are stored in a place that has no boundaries where document freely intermingles with diary. This approach is taken even further in Kentridge’s animated work in which, given the nature of animation, the images begin to transform into others, showing the actual consumption of one memory or totem by the next.





November 20, 2015

Go to Meet the Storm

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… It is tragic when Monsieur Verdoux drinks rum for the first time before his execution and says he doesn’t like it.

This is from Bowstring: On the Dissimilarity of the Similar by Viktor Shklovsky; translated by Shushan Avagyan (1970; 2011):

[ … ]

“What am I ashamed of?” she asked herself with indignant surprise. She put down her book, leaned back, and clasped the paper knife tightly in both hands. There was nothing to be ashamed of. She called up all her Moscow memories. They were all good and pleasant. [from the beginning of Anna Karenina]

What was Anna Karenina ashamed of? Was she ashamed of the false happiness of the novel’s characters or her future uncompromising fall? Her journey thus far is rather safe. She doesn’t know yet that Vronsky will surge into the train, surge out of the storm that was “rushing and whistling between the wheels of the train,” and that she will go to meet the storm.

[ … ]

… This is how Anna Karenina dies. She falls into a torrent of memories, separates and registers individual features, perceives every movement that she makes, recalls that there is a little red handbag in her hand, feels how she quickly and lightly descends the steps that lead to the rails, and throws herself under the train. “A little peasant muttering something was working at the rails. The candle, by the light of which she had been reading that book filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief, and evil, flared up with a brighter light than before, lit up for her all that had before been dark, flickered, began to grow dim, and went out for ever.”

This is how the novel, which had opened with a biblical epigraph about vengeance, ends.

What is forbidden? What ought to be punishable?

[ … ]

… It is tragic when Monsieur Verdoux drinks rum for the first time before his execution and says he doesn’t like it.

It is tragic because he won’t be able to try anything else in his life.

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




November 19, 2015

We Listeners, a Half Century Later

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… And in those moments I do not cut away.

This is from the author’s interview with Jane Gillooly in Avant-Doc: Intersections of Documentary and Avant-Garde Cinema by Scott MacDonald (2015):

[ … ]

MacDonald: How did you come to be in possession of the tapes that form the basis for Suitcase of Love and Shame?

Gillooly: I was looking for collections. I’d been researching a film about a collection of objects that had been assembled over a long period — the concept being to trace the sources and significance of the objects and interpret their imbedded meaning within a contemporary context. …

My friend Albert Steg, who knew what I was thinking about, discovered the suitcase on eBay in December of 2009. He shared the discovery with me and asked if I wanted him to place a bid. I did, of course, and no none bid against me.

MacDonald: What was in that suitcase? How much tape material, and what else?

Gillooly: Approximately 60 hours of audio material — most of it was Tom and Jeannie … And there were photographs and slides in the suitcase, and letters, phone bills, photo processing and audiotape receipts, name tags, matchbook covers, a bottle opener.

[ … ]

Gillooly: … The feeling that I was eavesdropping was something I wanted to retain in the film. When I was digitizing a tape, I couldn’t stop the tape recorder for fear of damaging the tape, so I listened to many extremely banal conversations, as well as to Tom’s and Jeannie’s expressions of the excruciating pain they were in. At times I was so affected by what one of them was doing that I physically had to move away from my desk. In the film I spared the audience the full-on experience of the emotional trauma as well as the dreadfully boring repetitions. No one needs to hear Jeannie cry for 30 minutes straight …


[ … ]

MacDonald: Suitcase is harrowing to sit through, both alone and especially with an audience. What has been your experience of the audiences who have seen the film?

Gillooly: I find myself admitting to audiences that I felt as uncomfortable listening to the tapes the first time, as I make them feel. The material is so startlingly real that it can be unsettling. Tom and Jeannie were often performing for the tape recorder but at the same time they were inventing a form.

There is also a very sad quality that comes across as Tom and Jeannie become resigned to the inevitable end of the affair. I know the audience relates to the human emotion in their recordings and the fact that the couple does not disguise the pain they are in. And in those moments I do not cut away. The recordings were made in a uniquely unselfconscious state with the goal of reaching out to another human being — the lover — so much so that we listeners, a half century later, can feel as though they are speaking directly to us, that we are in the room with them.

[line break added] Yet we know that Tom and Jeannie never expected these tapes to be heard by anyone. In these moments of pure despondency, when they do not mask their feelings of utter misery, my heart at least is breaking for them.

I believe it is this, the sadness of it all, coupled with the way the film forces the audience to face, within a public sphere, their own feelings about privacy and regret that causes some audience members to challenge my use of the tapes.

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




November 18, 2015

A Subject in the Drama Rather Than a Witness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… my distance slips, the arrogance and illusion of immunity falters.

This is from Larry Sultan: Here and Home organized by Rebecca Morse (2015). All of the following are quotes from Sultan, and all of the photographs shown are from his Pictures From Home:

… If I know too much, if the narrative is too well-formed, I’m making pictures that are illustrative and as a maker, that’s not interesting. As a viewer, that’s not interesting.

Mom in Curtain, 1991

… I want to investigate the stereotype … and complicate that stereotype, make it a richer field, something that isn’t filled with the assumption of generic lives.


… The house is quiet. They have gone to bed, leaving me alone … Years ago I would have gone through my mother’s purse for one of her cigarettes and smoked in the dark. It was a magical time that the house was mine.

Tonight, however, I am restless. I sit at the dining-room table, rummage through the refrigerator. What am I looking for?

All day long I’ve been scavenging, poking around in rooms and closets, peering at their things, studying them. I arrange my rolls of exposed film into long rows and count and recount them as if they were loot. There are twenty-eight.

What drives me to continue this work is difficult to name. It has more to do with love than with sociology, with being a subject in the drama rather than a witness. And in the odd and fumbled process of working, everything shifts; the boundaries blur, my distance slips, the arrogance and illusion of immunity falters. I wake up in the middle of the night, stunned and anguished. These are my parents.

Mom Touching Wallpaper, 1986


… A good artist has a single vision that kind of unravels in a very elegant way throughout time.

… very few people make a living as an artist, why not just do what you want to do? Instead of conforming to the model of what one thinks one should do, why not just do it? Just get all of those demons out of one’s system and all of the pleasures and all of the fantasies and just run with them; and that has been terrible for my career but wonderful for my soul.

Mom Peaking Out of Curtain, 1989




November 17, 2015

The Freedom Granted to Those Who Refuse to Worry Over Imperfection

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… and choose instead to fully inhabit it, just as they do the misshapen forms and blotched and rumbled skin to which humans are inevitable heir. They are no less beautiful for their exquisite awkwardness.

This is from Think with the Senses: Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense by Robert Storr, who was the Director of this 52nd International Art Exhibition (the 2007 Venice Biennale) to which this book was the accompanying catalog, which features a commentary and (optional) statement or quote from the artist. The following is from Storr’s commentary on Franz West:


… In his art the body is by definition ungainly, and therefore slightly pathetic and more than slightly ridiculous.


West’s free-standing papier-mâché and mixed-media monoliths, and his gravity bound steel lozenges parody the sleek biomorphism of Arp and Moore, and the painted steel arcs of Calder as well as the industrial-strength elegance of other modernist precursors, while at the same time rescuing public sculpture from standardization and bogus site-specificity by embracing their status as ‘plop-art’ with impertinence and comic candor.


… the processes and effects that in Richter bespeak an uneasy skepticism about the continued possibility of the modernist project of purifying the medium, in West seem to celebrate the freedom granted to those who refuse to worry over imperfection and choose instead to fully inhabit it, just as they do the misshapen forms and blotched and rumbled skin to which humans are inevitable heir. They are no less beautiful for their exquisite awkwardness.


From Lawrence Weiner, this quote:

Sculpture by virtue of its state
Presents a material reality that by its presence
Changes the inherent meaning of whatsoever place it finds itself
Bringing about a change in the relationship of human beings &
objects & producing a change in the ambiance
Caveat emptor: it can at times block the way




November 16, 2015

Some Undefined Apocalyptic Dream

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… he believes that his is the one true and authentic hat, and he wears it not with a dandy’s flair but with a Mennonite’s stubborn faith.

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


… There was a moment in the late sixties when Crumb’s imagery was so omnipresent that, for many, it still remains difficult to separate his art from his moment: a generation found its bliss listening to the Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty while reading Crumb “comix.” Crumb’s signature imagery belongs not to the high happy point of San Francisco culture but to a moment just after that, to 1968 and 1969, to the retrenchment of rock music in its country “roots,” and the glum recognition by the counterculture of its future in urban squalor and rural drudgery.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Crumb anatomized the counterculture at a moment when it had come to recognize itself as fundamentally un-serious, or at least essentially impotent, torn between a nostalgia for American rural and ethnic styles, particularly the Delta and Chicago blues, and some undefined apocalyptic dream of social revolution.


… Like all puritans in art, he is a relentless tastemaker, and many of his comic strips are simply moralizing lists of what is decent and what is fake in American pop culture. He is convinced that all matters of taste are matters of principle. The comedy of his work derives from its monomaniacal dependence on a wistful, secondhand, already defunct comic strip style to express this fervent impulse to truth.

… The element of conscious protest in Crumb’s comics is addressed less to the social system, which is always imagined as unavoidably malignant (its opponents are imagined as insanely naïve), than at the previous style of comics. Crumb’s style is clearly a protest against the florid banalities of the superhero comic book. The same set of clichés that Lichtenstein had celebrated as a whole folk style only a few years before were now seen as just a part of a larger culture of lies.

… What is distinctive in Crumb is that the grotesque style is treated so matter-of-factly. Crumb shows us a world that looks as if it had been made in the imagination of Basil Wolverton, yet presents it as a simple, stubborn, inarguable truth. Crumb identifies not with the urbane and self-consciously stylish caricature tradition but with older traditions of peasant art, in which archaic folk form and close observation are inextricably mixed.


Crumb transformed comic style into a slow, dragging net in which all the navel lint and dust of the world is caught and scrutinized. Insistently banal, his art protests all the enforced cheerfulness of American official style. He despises the cleaned-up, perfect surface that is the beau ideal of all American popular culture. And yet he has a deep and touching faith in the truthfulness of the low, grotesque style that evolved in the margins of that culture.

Crumb, as much as any appropriation artist, uses a style as borrowed and secondhand as an old hat; yet he believes that his is the one true and authentic hat, and he wears it not with a dandy’s flair but with a Mennonite’s stubborn faith. It is the improbable passion and fervor that Crumb brings to his archaic style that gives his work both its intense conviction and (as he knows very well himself) its monomaniacal absurdity.

[line break added] As passionately as Blake convincing himself that the cheap neoclassical prints on which his imagination fed could picture eternal cosmic forces, Crumb regards the carnival of comic-book grotesques that he saw in his moment of vision in 1966 as a permanent legation of the American collective unconscious.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




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