Unreal Nature

January 17, 2019

You Have to Get into the House

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… every artist has to understand “the apparatus they are threaded through” and figure out a way to deal with it.

Continuing through Conversations about Sculpture which is transcripts of dialog between Richard Serra and Hal Foster (2018):

[ … ]

Hal Foster: … many of our pieces show a deep commitment to public space and public experience, but the art system in which they have emerged is both privatized and privatizing. What about this apparent contradiction between the public nature of your work — the self-evident materials, the transparent construction, the clear presentation — and the private world of super-rich patrons?

Richard Serra: Most work right now is market-driven, which diminishes the possibility of public art, and museums aren’t truly public forums either. Of course I’d prefer a public exchange with my work in situ, without depending on private patrons or, for that matter, without dealing with spectacular settings.

Clara Weyergraf-Serra: Richard is trapped in a contradiction. He wants to build his work, and he wants it to be public, but who gets it out there? Putting a piece out in public today is extremely difficult, and you need public funding. Where does it come from? When he’s had a chance to put work in a public place, he’s been enormously generous. Often there’s just not enough interest. In this system, in order to reach the public you have to have private support.

RS: Also if I place a piece in a public space, the context is likely to change within a year or a decade, certainly within a few decades. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

HF: “To remove the work,” you said of Tilted Arc, “is to destroy it.” If the site changes drastically, does that mean the work might be altered to the point of destruction?

RS: That’s an interesting question. A change in context can subvert the work. Take Terminal (1944) in Bochum. We sited that tower very close to the streetcar tracks near the train station so it would be part of the circulation of the city, but now those tracks are gone and the content [context?] of the piece is changed. It stands isolated on a traffic island.

HF: How do you respond to such changes?

CW-S: We’ve never considered that question in Richard’s contracts. What can we do?

HF: Those contracts must be hard enough for clients to sign in the first place.

RS: Yes, and you can’t foresee the changes. They do happen though, both big and small. And they occur not only in urban locations but also in landscape sites, mostly when the clients don’t fully understand the placement of the work.

HF: Do you have any rights at that point?

RS: No

[ … ]

HF: It’s not about aspiration: it’s about what culture does to certain artists. Robert Smithson said forty years ago that every artist has to understand “the apparatus they are threaded through” and figure out a way to deal with it. Today many artists are only too happy to be threaded through — they aspire to it in fact. They take the art world as a game to play and to win, not as an apparatus to resist or to transform.

RS: Where the rubber hits the road is where you’re part of what’s corrupt and you have to face that contradiction and decide what to do. If you lash out against the institution, you’ll be excluded from it. So what you do is keep your counsel, know the context will change eventually, and have some faith that what you’re involved with will outlive the moment you’re in. Is there a way to make people aware of their contradictions, to involve them in a discussion that opens out to alternative viewpoints? If you throw bombs from the outside you get nowhere; you have to get into the house.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 16, 2019

The Wonder Lost

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… shrouded in the faded promises of a previous moment, the ‘revelations’ of industrial technologies are fired, like warning shots, from past into present.

This is from ‘After the future a “scientific turn” in contemporary photographic art’ by Ben Burbridge found in Revelations: Experiments in Photography edited by Burbridge (2015):

… have artists faced with an image-saturated culture tried to revive modes of seeing that, a century ago, held the potential to achieve the ‘wonder’ lost to photography today?

If such a project were taken to be heartfelt and sincere, it would be inevitably destined to fail. While the revelations of earlier scientific seeing can certainly impress, particularly when reproduced at scale, the forms of vision on which they rely have entered a common cultural vocabulary, some of them reduced to kitsch or cliché.

… [Jennifer] Tucker contrasts the situation with our current ‘age of image inundation’ in which ‘there is perhaps no longer such a thing as a “first glimpse” — or if it exists, the public’s interest in it is quickly diverted.

… We are living in what some perceive to be another revolutionary moment, in which technologies serve as the engines for profound social and cultural change. In David Harvey’s well-known account of neoliberalism, the past thirty years have been marked by a ‘particularly intense burst of … space-time compression’ powered by new information technologies.

[line break added] Artists associated with the scientific turn populate a digital age in which exchanges take place at ever-greater speeds and with ever-increasing frequency. This sensation of flux — a world that has grown smaller and faster — has been given various names. For Manuel Castells, it is experienced as the ‘continual presence’ of ‘networked time.’

[line break added] Paul Virilio describes it as ‘telepresence.’ Across many and varied areas of culture, the development and effects of digital technologies have been construed in terms that knowingly echo those used to describe an earlier period of industrial transformation — two parallel revolutions in which technology acts as the primary engine driving change.

[line break added] For Jonathan Crary, this ‘numbingly familiar’ suggestion is problematic. Accounts of rupture affirm ‘a continuity with larger patterns and sequences of technological change and innovation’ in ways that lend ‘a sense of historical inevitability … to changes in large-scale economic developments and in the micro-phenomena of everyday life.’

… For Crary, networked culture marks the realization of the earlier industrial fantasy of 24/7 labor and the near-totalizing commodification of everyday life.

… Emblems of a future long past, shrouded in the faded promises of a previous moment, the ‘revelations’ of industrial technologies are fired, like warning shots, from past into present.

My previous post from this book is  here.




January 15, 2019

The Separation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:04 am

… The earliest artistic products must not have seemed “artistic” to the people of the time.

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

… People undertake in the form of culture the struggle against the bewildering disorder and the crippling anarchy of existence, not when they have acquired their livelihood but usually in order to assure it.

… Because of their mimetic nature, art and science are the closest of all structures of meaning. They are most sharply distinguished from one another by the fact that art reveals the most characteristics which are anthropomorphically, physiologically, and psychologically linked with human nature, whereas science shows the fewest of these characteristics.

[line break added] Science presupposes as a subject an abstract, colorless, so to speak transparent consciousness; art, in contrast, is linked to man qua man, to the individual as a peculiar being who is incomparable because of his unrepeatable combination of dispositions and tendencies.

[ … ]

… If … we wish to follow precisely the process which resulted in the modern state of consciousness which at first rigidly separated the attitudes and then reunited them, we must go still further back into the prehistory of sociological self-consideration. The gradual differentiation of individual attitudes from one another and from the complex of the undifferentiated practice of life must have demanded an immeasurable length of time and must have occurred long before the idea of their independence was formulated.

[line break added] The separation of productive labor from magic, of science from religion, of law from morals, of artistic invention from mere invocation for the sake of magic, animistic, or ritualistic purposes was doubtless a process which spread over most of the early history of culture.

… The earliest artistic products must not have seemed “artistic” to the people of the time. We ourselves, if we were to see them, would scarcely recognize them as works of art. They would certainly be so similar to other products made for other practical purposes that we would not be in a position to draw a clear line between what was “not yet” and what was “already” artistic.

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




January 14, 2019

Come Alive

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:00 am

… all of this really does belong to you.

This is from ‘All of This Belongs to You’ by Rory Hyde in issue #44 (2015) of the independent quarterly magazine, Volume:

… Museums are typically places that attempt to exclude the natural environment. They block out sunlight, regulate the temperature, filter the air and eliminate plant and animal life. … Rather than fortresses of culture defending the collections from the evils beyond, museums could play an active role in promoting and improving the ecology of the city.

… Early in our conversation with the artist and technologist James Bridle, he shared a peculiar observation: the storage facility for the Tate is across the road from the storage facility for the Metropolitan Police. One keeps a collection of priceless art, the other keeps evidence from criminal cases.

[line break added] Both functions are housed in near-identical big box generic warehouses, with similar requirements for high security and stable temperature, light and humidity. Both are public facilities, maintaining objects on behalf of the nation. This coincidental co-location of facilities led Bridle to the realization that both of these institutions ultimately have the same role: to make sense of the present through objects of the past.

… Themes like ‘publicness,’ ‘the network’ of ‘shared atmosphere’ not only don’t fit in the gallery, but they are impossible to contain in any way. These themes take place over time, across vast geographies, and are as much social systems as they are designed. Our response is to try to enact these themes in the museum, to present a tiny fragment through which to view the whole.

[line break added] These installations are both art works, in that they are things you can stand back and admire as objects, but they are also doing work, by either enabling public participation, or by participating in the functions of the museum. They are tools for re-conceiving our place in the world, and how design can be used to reveal it.

… once ideas like these are revealed they become harder to ignore, and the business-as-usual approach begins to look flimsy by comparison. The idea of just lining things up on shelves and sticking on labels is no longer enough. It’s the obligation of museums to make their collections come alive and connect to critical issues of today. After all, all of this really does belong to you.




January 13, 2019

Expressive Match

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… The student replays the passage, trying to match the teacher’s style, and looks up quizzically.

This is from On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind by Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis (2014):

… there’s something about rehearing the same piece exactly the same way again and again that lulls us into a sense of its special “rightness.” On first hearing, the sounds might seem to have been put together haphazardly, but each time we go down the musical path etched out by the piece, its track gets deeper and deeper such that we fall down it more and more easily until it carries with it some sense of inevitable rather than accidental reality.

[line break added] This is an inevitability we feel rather than believe. And since we know that musical pieces are not natural objects but rather artifacts of a human urge to communicate, express, and create, feeling that a piece is inevitable and right amounts to an appealing sense of someone else’s (the composer or performer) artistic act precisely matching our own sensibilities. It can be intoxicating to feel that a piece created by another person is fundamentally right

[ … ]

Levinson examines what it takes for a piece to make sense to a listener — for a listener to have a sense that he or she “gets it.” He proposes that to have this impression, a listener must be able to feel and inhabit the musical progression, to embody it to some extent: evidence, Levinson claims, for the primacy of moment-to-moment experiences in musical listening. What might constitute proof that a listener had grasped the music in this way?

[line break added] “One of the clearest indications that one has understood a piece of music at a basic level is one’s ability to reproduce parts of it in some manner — by playing, singing, humming, or whistling it.” Since this kind of understanding not only doesn’t rely on conscious articulation but is also potentially not even susceptible to it, the ability to repeat the musical progression becomes the best proving ground for communication and shared sensibility.

In a study of training habits among professional popular musicians, Green found that almost all of them had begun by trying to copy their favorite recordings by ear. Suzuki students the world over are taught to listen and repeat the sounds on a CD sent home with the parents. And how many music lessons involve some variation on this scenario? The student plays a passage. “No, like this,” says the teacher, performing it subtly differently — with some difficult-to-articulate but perceptually distinct adjustment to pace, voicing, and articulation.

[line break added] The student replays the passage, trying to match the teacher’s style, and looks up quizzically. “Almost, but more like this,” says the teacher, playing it again, perhaps with a bit of additional emphasis on the dimension the student’s performance continues to lack. “Oh, like this,” replies the student, successfully echoing the essence of the teacher’s performance. “Yes!” says the teacher excitedly, even before the passage is complete, once the expressive match is clear.

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




January 12, 2019

The Slyest of Devils

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… He is always ready to slip invisibly into an action, a gesture or a sentence.

This is from The Open Door: Thoughts on Acting and Theatre by Peter Brook (1993):

… The theater is perhaps one of the most difficult arts, for three connections must be accomplished simultaneously and in perfect harmony: links between the actor and his inner life, his partners and the audience.

First, the actor must be in a deep, secret relationship with his most intimate sources of meaning. The great storytellers I’ve seen in teahouses in Afghanistan and Iran recall ancient myths with much joy, but also with inner gravity. At every moment they open themselves to their audiences, not to please them, but to share with them the qualities of a sacred text.

[line break added] In India, the great storytellers who tell the Mahabharata in the temples never lose contact with the grandeur of the myth that they are in the process of reliving. They have an ear turned inwards as well as outwards. This is as it should be for every true actor. It means being in two worlds at the same time.

[ … ]

… The greatest guiding principle I know of in my work, the one to which I always pay the most attention, is boredom. In the theater, boredom, like the slyest of devils, can appear at any moment. The slightest thing and he jumps on you, he’s waiting and he’s voracious. He is always ready to slip invisibly into an action, a gesture or a sentence.

[line break added] Once one knows this, all one needs is to trust one’s own built-in capacity to be bored and use this as a reference, knowing that it is what one has in common with all the beings on Earth. It’s extraordinary; if during a rehearsal or an exercise I say to myself, “If I’m bored, there must be a reason for it,” then, out of desperation, I have to look for the reason. So I give myself a jolt and out comes a new idea — which jolts the other person, who jolts me back. As soon as boredom appears, it is like a flashing red light.

My previous post from Brook’s book is here.




January 11, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am


May Day
by Lois Moyles

[ … ]

It’s the date when
the old beholders of bifurcation
first ate the reddish fruit and said,
“It’s from its own necessity
………………………….. that the apple grows,
and it’s from our own
………………………….. that we eat it.
What’s the matter with that?”

[ … ]

by Lois Moyles

[ … ]

Like them we languish on paths
………………………….. hardened by handed-down hooves.
Reappraise the rock-breaking,
………………………….. rock-hauling,
………………………….. upended centuries.
Or, lying among lizards, we loaf
in our slowed-down engines of skin.
Knowing we can’t be tipped
………………………….. equipped as we are,
an outriggered race
better braced than boulders
………………………….. for marking this plain.

Previous posts from Lois Moyles’ poetry can be found here.




January 10, 2019


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:52 am

… You sense an unconscious need in the work.

Continuing through Conversations about Sculpture which is transcripts of dialog between Richard Serra and Hal Foster (2018):

[ … ]

Hal Foster: … Let’s stick with Surrealism. You’ve often criticized it as too figurative, imagistic, narrative — as Greenberg did too, by the way. Why make an exception for Giacometti?

Richard Serra: When he goes back to the figure, as good as he is, he’s still back to modeling, casting, and drawing in space. I’m not going to take anything away from him because I think Standing Woman (1948-49) and Walking Man (1960) are good in any century. They look like they’re deteriorating in front of you.

Alberto Giacometti, Standing Woman

HF: Newman once said they almost seem to be made of spit.

RS: They’re fragile and vulnerable; it’s as though they’ve been in the Aegean for centuries. And yet they gather space, even if it’s a space that’s withered. Still, in terms of the history of sculpture, the little figures and small things he would throw away resonate for me more than the pieces everyone cherishes like Standing Woman and Walking Man.

HF: Which little things?

RS: He made small pieces in matchboxes. He’d take them out, roll them around the table, and then put them in his pocket or throw them away. That was during the war.

HF: What is it that appealed to you about them?

RS: The idea of making something, carrying it in a matchbox like a talisman, and then often discarding it. That’s not really Dada. It’s about constantly working and constantly disposing, and when he gets to his figures he’s doing the same thing — making and disposing, making and disposing. That starts with the little pieces.

[ … ]

HF: What in particular [were you so interested in] about [Jasper] Johns?

RS: His process, how to invent a mark, how to build a form.

HF: You could see, or intuit, the process in his work?

RS: Yes, in Johns the image is never as important as the making.

HF: Was that due in part to his use of encaustic, the way it suspends the gesture, registers the process?

RS: Yes, but it happens in his drawing too: how to invent a mark, how repeat it, how to make it into a configuration, how to make that configuration into a whole. Johns invented a new way of drawing just as Twombly invented a new kind of calligraphy.

HF: And that’s what interested you in both those artists.

RS: Also, both those artists, but particularly Johns, are unself-conscious in the sense that the impetus of the work is deeper than the result. You sense an unconscious need in the work.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 9, 2019

As Usual

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… As usual, its many roles and multiple uses make photography a frustratingly coy, but also rewardingly rich, subject of investigation.

This is from ‘Showing science photography’ by Kelley Wilder found in Revelations: Experiments in Photography edited by Ben Burbridge (2015):

… The swelling ranks of photographs on the industry side of exhibitions were fed by the rise of the photographic survey movement in the last decades of the [19th] century. What developed was not just the implied objectivity of sparse backgrounds, prosaic lighting and camera angles that would become beloved of proponents of New Objectivity, but also particular display tactics that marked even the most dubious photographs as scientific.

[line break added] Such strategies were intended to privilege the informational content of photographs above the pictorial. They included placing the label with the record information prominently on the front of the mount, and showing series of photographs for comparison. Science exhibitions in the 20th century continued to employ such tactics.

… the revelation evident in the outpouring of interest in photography/science exhibitions of the last 30 years reflects the inner working of science itself.

In the 1960s, philosopher of science Michael Polanyi identified some of the extra-scientific conditions, such as tacit knowledge, that influence and inform scientific opinions. Similar scholarship followed, by Thomas Kuhn, and then Bruno Latour. Science studies took a sociological turn.

[line break added] Whether one subscribes to notions regarding the political elements of scientific knowledge or not, the relentless situating of scientific knowledge as socially constructed means that scientific photography can no longer be viewed simply in terms of value-free, objective observations of the natural world. It has begun to occupy a value-laden zone of creative image making, rather than image taking. Such photographs reveal to us the inner workings of scientific knowledge creation.

… As usual, its many roles and multiple uses make photography a frustratingly coy, but also rewardingly rich, subject of investigation.




January 8, 2019

Taking Possession

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… It is … a means of taking possession of the world by force or cunning …

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

… Artistic creation is not the fight for the display of “ideas” but a struggle against the concealment of things by ideas, essences, and universals.

… No matter how close the Paleolithic animal drawings were to the early and no longer identifiable forms of art, they can scarcely have been identical with them. Be that as it may, they represent the prototypes of the artistic reflection of reality which, even in the case of the most extreme detachment, is never without point or function.

The specific structure of mental attitudes, their autonomy and their inherent qualities, the peculiar categorical structure of scientific knowledge, of moral evaluation, or of artistic creation are both historically and psychologically of secondary significance. What is of primary importance in a practical sense is their juxtaposition, their common participation in the human endeavor to come to terms with reality and survive in the struggle for existence.

[line break added] Art especially, however playful and unconcerned, fantastic and extravagant it may be, serves not only indirectly, by honing the sense of reality, but also directly as an instrument of magic, ritual, and propaganda, in the creation of weapons for the struggle for existence. Far from using art as a respite from the struggle, people set the most dangerous traps for their enemies and competitors under the guise of peaceful intentions.

… Art is always concerned with altering life. Without the feeling that the world is, as van Gogh said, “an unfinished sketch” there would be little art at all. Art is by no means the product of a purely contemplative attitude which simply accepts things as they are or passively submits to them. It is rather a means of taking possession of the world by force or cunning, of achieving hegemony over people by love or hatred, and of seizing the victims who have been overpowered either directly or indirectly.

[line break added] Paleolithic man depicted animals in order to hunt, capture, and kill them. In the same way, children’s drawings do not present a “disinterested” view of reality; they too pursue a sort of magic purpose, express love and hatred and serve as a way of gaining power over the person depicted. We may, then, use art as a means of subsistence, as a weapon in the struggle, as a vehicle for the dissipation of aggressive drives or as a sedative which will allay destructive and mutilating desires.

[line break added] We may use it to correct the incomplete nature of things and demonstrate against its gloomy and lackluster character and against its senselessness and aimlessness. No matter what the reason, art remains realistic and activist, and it is only in exceptional cases that it expresses a disinterested or neutral attitude toward questions of practice.

My previous post from Hauser’s book is here.




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