Unreal Nature

April 15, 2015

In and Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… (the body’s insanity and desire, all that is most fragile and alive, most deeply shameful) …

This is from the essay ‘I Robbed the woods: Notes on Cindy Sherman’ by Sara Stridsberg found in Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors (2013):

Is it possible to describe a person without destroying her? Without confinement, capture or betrayal? Isn’t it descriptions that alienate us from one another, make us shun, despise, defile, kill?

… Writing in a literary way perhaps means trying to find a language beyond descriptions, find words that twist their way out of the alphabet, lose their value, scatter … like children … like clouds … in the sky.

… One night, just before the snow falls over Stockholm, I dream I am holding one of those big art books of Cindy Sherman’s photographs in my arms, like a large, awkward, recalcitrant child. Between the covers there are worms and massacred bodies crawling among vomit and earth from graves, and through the covers of the book I can feel something squirming, something alive, a snake or an evil doll attempting to twist out of the sides.


… The first time I read the Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek I felt as though the book I was carrying around with me had a life of its own, as if I had some live, predatory animal in my handbag.

… “I do think that the seeds of full-scale war can always be found in peace-time civilization,” writes Sarah Kane. The threat that is always there, like a constant pressure somewhere near your cochlea, a deafening roar, like an undercurrent, a dark river, a secret, violent underside to the world.

… To me, Sherman’s pictures are like eroticism: that vestige of the animal in us, the desperation, aggression, that strange and wonderful thread of insanity and violence that runs through the life of a human being and seems absurd in our ordered, rational world. And maybe it is precisely that wound which Sherman likes to prod. The fact that this uncontrollable element within us (the body’s insanity and desire, all that is most fragile and alive, most deeply shameful) is also represented everywhere in our culture, though in distorted form, reproduced drearily and interminably, in strictly checked, well-produced images, in the intensely choreographed violations of pornography, in the coldness of the fashion world.

[ … ]

… When I was twelve, in 1984, some plastic bags were discovered by the highway not far from the place where I grew up. One of them was found to contain the lower part of someone’s trunk, half a torso. In the other there were two thigh parts that had been cut off. And the ground beside the bags was scattered with garbage, empty milk cartons, toilet paper, dog’s mess, and an old porn magazine. A few weeks later, more bags were found a short distance away. They contained a breast, two arms, and two lower legs. No head, no face, no sexual organs. It was said she had been killed by a butcher, or an architect, or a forensic expert, no weapon, no clues. All they had was the absence of something, something inhuman.

[ … ]

… There is a long history of attempts to capture the essence and character of woman. If her character were to be described, once and for all, then her future and her fate would be sealed. Julia Kristeva describes woman as some kind of cultural outsider. In ancient Greece, marriage constituted a refuge of sorts for woman, a sanctuary. Without marriage she lacked protection and a homeland, without a husband she had neither a state nor any rights. For a long time, woman was also a stranger within culture, someone standing outside, outside words and power, and if she ever made her presence felt in art it was not with an easel, and paintbrushes in her hand, but as the image: an oddly depicted, naked animal.


[line break added to make this easier to read online] Since then, thousands and thousands of years of revolutions, transformations, wars, kings, princesses, and political utopias have passed. In this part of the world, soil became town, poverty became prosperity, prosperity became raw consumption. The old hunger for food turned into a hunger for commodities. And if man endures — as I think of him now, he is standing there unmoving and unchanged, untouched by time, like a statue — then woman changes, floating in and out of a succession of varying ideas about her: permanently new, always other, in and out of new costumes and creations.

Cindy Sherman is an Orlando, with a rapier, a crinoline, and a leather jacket, moving through time and letting herself be sullied by it, and her disguise constantly conceals another disguise. A girl who beneath her girl costume conceals an ape, which under its ape costume conceals a big white bird that suddenly flies away. Out of history, out of the mirrors.


[all photos (above) are by Cindy Sherman]

My most recent previous Sherman post is here.




April 14, 2015

The Opposite of Cultural Inbreeding

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… it is the mongrel litter thrown by the fertile misalliance of high and low.

This is from the title essay by Robert Storr found in Disparities & Deformations: Our Grotesque (2004):

… the ruin of perfection is the origin of vital hybridities, mutation, and cross-fertilization — the source of hitherto unseen combinations of familiar forms.

… To be Goyesque — like being Kafkaesque — is to be grotesque in an especially disconcerting way that rattles right-mindedness by spinning those who cannot decide whether to laugh of howl into a state the nineteenth-century German writer Jean Paul described as “soul dizziness.”

Ordinarily this does not happen at the sight of people or things that are strange or ugly. We might be repulsed, or we might be fascinated, look away, or sneak a peek, but curiosity about damage and deformity rarely touches the nerve that triggers doubts about who and where we are. To be grotesque, something must be in conflict with something else yet indivisible from it. To result in “soul dizziness,” that conflict must in some fashion already exist within the mind of the beholder such that the confusion stems not only from the anomaly to which we bear witness in the world, but the anomaly that is revealed within us. Humanism, that much abused idea, enters into the equation to the extent that the dualities of which we are composed — the parts that don’t match and the gaps between them — are made more rather than less apparent by our awareness of the misalignment or distortion of other parts of reality or of unrealities given substance by artists.

[ … ]

” … The laughter of children is like the blossoming of a flower. It is the joy of receiving, the joy of breathing, the joy of confiding, the joy of contemplating, of living, of growing up. It is like the joy of a plant. And so, generally speaking, its manifestation is rather the smile, something analogous to the wagging tail in a dog or the purring of cats. And yet, do not forget that if the laughter of children may, after all is said and done, be distinguished from the outward signs of animal contentment, the reason is that this laughter is not entirely devoid of ambition, and that is as it should be, in mini-men or in other words Satans of early growth.” [Baudelaire]

[ … ]

… And so we enter the marshy territory of connoisseurship. What is good taste in bad taste? Who are we to trust when picking mushrooms on polluted ground? Certainly not people who rigidly stand guard outside or nervously circle the perimeter. Nor should we have much confidence in those who briefly step over it only to retreat to safety where they can describe their adventures to those more timid. We must rely instead on people who know their way around. There are as many of these, and as few, as there are experts in old masters; sometimes they are one and the same. Furthermore, we must trust their assurance that like all new flavors, especially strong ones, the grotesque is an acquired taste. If it is bitter, then savor it but do not swallow too quickly. If you do, and it does not kill you — though with potent mushrooms a certain nausea frequently accompanies invigorating hallucinations — then you are fine, and the only problem is whether to do it again.

Am I being flippant? Only if readers are persuaded that enjoyment and playfulness are separate from understanding, the former being ephemeral and unserious, the latter being preoccupied with solemn verities, or at least with habitually keeping a straight face for dramatic emphasis, except when making fun of your adversaries. And have I neglected to mention in this connection that while caricature is usually directed at others, grotesquery often begins at home — in visions of the self as other, or the self reflected in the trick mirror of others? In the second circumstance the distinction between laughing at and laughing with the subject of a joke is lost when the two implode into one.

… Where mutual mistrust or contempt among social groups holds the upper hand, the grotesque is a weapon; but where reciprocal curiosity prevails it may also be a solvent that subtly breaks down the distinctions that keep separate enclaves apart.

… it is the mongrel litter thrown by the fertile misalliance of high and low. The opposite of cultural inbreeding, such miscegenation may threaten the purity of bloodlines but it makes for hardier stock. The grotesque is hybridity without constraint, hybridity par excellence. Insofar as modernism always contained elements of the grotesque, it is not, as its enemies or modernism’s fair-weather friends thought, because modernism was a degenerate art, but rather because it is by virtue of such impurities and mutations, a perpetually regenerate art.

My previous post from Storr’s book is here.




April 13, 2015

Looking Both Ways

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

” … the better we know tradition — i.e. ourselves — and the more responsibly we deal with it, the better things we shall make similar, and the better things we shall make different.”

Continuing through Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… For critics or observers of the scene still convinced that modern art is a sequence of ruptures, each one more radical than the last, Richter’s landscapes may seem at best a kind of fence-sitting between the old and the new, and at worst an intellectually adroit and technically masterful form of backsliding. However, these paintings are no more a throwback to lapsed aesthetic conventions than they are an ironical recapitulation and then dismantling of them. The Janus-like position Richter occupies, recognizes that those who work fully in the present always enter history in medias res. Looking both ways from such a position affords us a clearer perspective on the continuities and discontinuities of artistic practice than those available to anyone craning his or her neck to see the present from a vantage point in the hypothetical future or the reconstructed past. Richter’s unwillingness to sacrifice tradition to the new is therefore based on an appreciation of the uses tradition retains and those it acquires in the here-and-now, rather than on a desire to emulate or hold onto a former understanding of it.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Furthermore, his refusal to turn his back definitively on tradition is explicitly qualified by the knowledge that what has been done in one time cannot be repeated in another. On the contrary, as Richter made plain in notes to himself in 1983, the aesthetic proximity of the past stands as a challenge to living artists to respond on their own terms: “Traditional, supposedly old works of art are not old but contemporary. So long as we ‘have’ them, in the broadest sense of the word, they will never be outworn: neither are we setting something of equal stature alongside them, nor shall we match or surpass their quality. Their permanent presence compels us to produce something different, which is neither better nor worse, but which has to be different because we painted the Isenheim Altar yesterday. … This is not to say that it would be pointless to produce something similar to traditional work. But the better we know tradition — i.e. ourselves — and the more responsibly we deal with it, the better things we shall make similar, and the better things we shall make different.”

Isenheim Altarpiece [image from Wikipedia]

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




April 12, 2015

The Brother, The Enemy

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

“… I could … write a melody of two voices … capable of responding to each other, of completing each other, of fighting each other and of holding each other, at each instant and in each point of the series, in the liveliest and most intimate relationship of exchange and opposition.”

This is from the essay ‘H.H.’ found in The Book to Come by Maurice Blanchot (1959; 2003). The first paragraph given is a single sentence. Take a deep breath before diving into it:

… The relationship he forms between literature and himself, between each of his books and the serious crises of his life; the need to write that is linked in him to the anxiety not to sink down, victim of his divided mind; the effort he makes to welcome anomaly and neurosis and to understand it as a normal state in an abnormal time; the psychoanalytic therapy to which he submits and which gives birth to one of his finest novels; that freedom that nonetheless does not free him, but that he would like to deepen by replacing psychoanalysis with meditation, Jung with yoga exercises, and then trying to situate himself in relation with the great interpreters of Taoism, and despite that, despite this wisdom to which he feels allied, the despair that seizes him and that makes him write in 1926 with tremendous literary passion one of the key novels of his time, Steppenwolf, in which Expressionism would recognize one of its masterpieces; all that — this linking of literature with a vital quest, the recourse to psychoanalysis, the call of India and China, even the magical and, at least once, expressionist violence that his art could attain — all this should have made his work a representative body of modern literature.

[ … ]

he tells himself that if he thinks apart from everyone else, that proves that there is in him a dangerous discord, for which he will someday have to pay. And, in fact, one day, when circumstances are aggravated, something in him breaks; it is this 1916 crisis that will bring him to psychoanalysis and will painfully but powerfully transform him, in his mind and in his art.

This crisis, though a sort of second spiritual birth, is in fact only a secondary one. The most serious event of his inner life occurs when he is fourteen, the day when he turns away from the Maulbronn seminary and when he also tries to run away from the family fate, from the rigor of pious disciplines, from the ministerial future in which he was supposed to follow his father and his grandfather. For two days he hides in the forest and almost dies of cold; a gamekeeper finds him and brings him back. How surprised his pious family is. They entrust him to a sort of exorcist who thinks he is possessed but fails to deliver him from his demon, which, according to Hesse, was nothing but the wicked poetic spirit.

One would be tempted to evoke André Gide, also divided by contradictions in ancestry and tendency. But everything is quite different. Hesse’s rupture is more painful and more involuntary. What happens to him, that obligation to free himself, is like an incomprehensible unhappiness he will need many years to master and understand. He is not a triumphant rebel. He is linked to what he rejects just as much as he is to the spirit of independence. Not much would be necessary for him, in becoming a poet, to become a gentle, bucolic poet happy with finding in vague romantic effusion the forgetfulness of his difficulties. And this is indeed what is manifested during the first part of his life; only the dreaming part is expressed, forgetful and at peace with himself, the one that establishes his fame with Peter Camenzind. In the history of rebellious adolescents, [this] is peculiar to him. Having succeeded in freeing himself violently in order to make himself a poet, far from giving expression to this rebellion or to the violence of his conflicts, he on the contrary does everything he can to lose sight of them and to reach, through his art, an ideal reconciliation of which Romanticism — for which he has only too many leanings — provides him with obliging examples.

1905 portrait of Hesse by Ernst Würtenberger [image from Wikipedia]

Moving on to Hesse’s second, later ‘crisis':

Hesse accepts the discipline of psychoanalysis while at roughly the same time Rilke and Kafka reject it, although, to overcome their problems, both of them had also considered this method. Rilke fears waking up cured, and cured of poetry: simplified excessively. For Hesse, things never become simpler. On the contrary, he only becomes aware of his complex division, of the necessity he feels of contradicting himself and not renouncing his contradictions. He always wants unity. As a young man, it is a vague unity, of semblance and unconsciousness, that he sought in nature by closing his eyes to himself. Now he sees that this happy unity was built only of his ignorance. During the years that follow, great years of material and moral ordeal (he broke all ties, lived alone in Montagnola in conditions of painful destitution, often having nothing except chestnuts gathered in the forest for a meal), what he wants to attain, to hear and make heard, is the double melody, the fluctuation between two poles, the come-and-go between the pillars of the two principles of the world.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] “If I were a musician, I could without difficulty write a melody of two voices, that would consist of two lines, in two sequences of sounds and notes, capable of responding to each other, of completing each other, of fighting each other and of holding each other, at each instant and in each point of the series, in the liveliest and most intimate relationship of exchange and opposition. And whoever knew how to read the notes could read my double melody, see and hear in each sound the counter-sound, the brother, the enemy, the antipode. Well, this double voice, this eternal movement of antithesis — that is what I want to express with my words, but I try in vain, I do not succeed.”




April 11, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… Our classifications blind us to the wildness of natural organization by supplying conceptual boxes to fit our preconceived ideas.

This is from Symbiotic Planet: A New Look at Evolution by Lynn Margulis (1998):

… Names of live beings seem harmless enough. So do groupings. Yet the superficially boring practice of naming and grouping has profoundly affected my scientific life. Faulty taxonomics misleads with the subtlety of unstated assumptions or religious beliefs. That symbiogenesis collides directly with common, cherished presumptions is one reason its acceptance has been delayed.

Taxonomy is the science of identifying, naming, and classifying organisms. Names and classification schemes organize great quantities of information. Taxonomies, like maps, bring into relief selected distinguishing features. However, in the phrase popularized by the English-American philosopher-anthropologist Gregory Bateson, “The map is not the territory.” Nor is the name the organism. The history of any organism is often depicted on a family tree. Family trees usually are grown from the ground up: a single trunk branches off into many separate lineages, each branch diverging from common ancestors. But symbiosis shows us that such trees are idealized representations of the past. In reality the tree of life often grows in on itself.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] Species come together, fuse, and make new beings, who start again. Biologists call the coming together of branches — whether blood vessels, roots, or fungal threads — anastomosis. Anastomosis, branches forming nets, is a wonderfully onomatopoetic word. One can hear the fusing. The tree of life is a twisted, tangled, pulsing entity with roots and branches meeting underground and in midair to form eccentric new fruits and hybrids. Anastomosis, although less frequent, is as important as branching. Symbiosis, like sex, brings previously evolved beings together into new partnerships. Like sex, too, some symbioses are protracted unions with stable, prolific futures. Others quickly dissolve. The interaction of each generation of genetically continuous beings calls into question any picture-book tree of life.

[image from Wikipedia]

[ … ]

… Any taxonomic scheme has problems. We tend to label and dismiss anything once we assign it a category. Our classifications blind us to the wildness of natural organization by supplying conceptual boxes to fit our preconceived ideas. … We can group life into three or five or a million categories, but life itself will elude us.

My previous post from Margulis’s book is here.




April 10, 2015

Something Shadowy and not Untouched with Evil

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… The tiny incremental thoughts of men tend to congeal in strange vast fabrics …

This is from The Mind as Nature by Loren Eiseley (1962):

… As the astrophysicist gazes upon the rare releases of power capable of devastating an entire solar system, so does the student of the behavioral sciences wonder at the manifestations of creative genius and consider whether the dark mechanisms that control the doorways of the human mind might be tripped open at more frequent intervals. Does genius emerge from the genes alone? Does the largely unknown chemistry of the brain contain at least part of the secret? Or is the number of potential cell connections involved? Or do we ordinary men carry it irretrievably locked within our subconscious minds?

That the manifestations of genius are culturally controlled we are well aware. The urban world, in all its diversity, provides a background, a cultural base, without which — whatever may be hidden in great minds — creativity would have had to seek other and more ephemeral expression or remain mute. Yet no development in art or scientific theory from the upper Stone Age onward seems to have demanded any further [evolutionary] development [of] the brain of man. Mathematical theory, science, the glories of art lurked hidden as the potential seeds of the universe itself, in the minds of children rocked to sleep by cave fires in Ice Age Europe.

If genius is a purely biological phenomenon one must assume that the chances of its appearance should increase with the size of populations. Yet it is plain that, like toadstools which spring up in the night in fairy rings and then vanish, there is some delicate soil which nurtures genius — the cultural circumstances and the play of minds must meet. It is not a matter of population statistics alone, else there would not have been so surprising an efflorescence of genius in fourth- and fifth-century Greece — a thing we still marvel at in our vastly expanded world.

… It is not the mere matter that such men create their universe as surely as shipwrecked bits of life run riot and transform themselves on oceanic islands. It is that in this supremely heightened consciousness of genius the mind demands expression. The spirit literally cannot remain within itself.

[ … ]

… As an archaeologist, however, gazing from the air upon the faint outlines of the neolithic hill forts still visible upon the English downs or, similarly, upon the monoliths of Stonehenge, or with equal intensity watching a black snake glide slowly down the steps of an abandoned Mexican cathedral, I am aware of something else than the geometric extension of power, whether in a civilization or a man.

There comes a time when the thistles spring up over man’s ruins with a sense of relief. It is as though the wasting away of power through time had brought with it the retreat of something shadowy and not untouched with evil. The tiny incremental thoughts of men tend to congeal in strange vast fabrics, from gladiatorial coliseums to skyscrapers, and then mutely demand release.

… It is one of the true functions of education to teach, in just this figurative way, the pure recompense of observing sunlight and the nodding weed wash over our own individual years and ruins. Joy was there and lingers in the grasses, the black wrong lies forever buried and the tortured mind may seek its peace.

… buttercups, a mastodon tooth, a giant snail, and a rolling Elizabethan line are a part of my own ruins over which the weeds grow tall.

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




April 9, 2015

Falling in Love with the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… an editor is someone who sits in a darkened room casting lots among shadows and falling in love with the world while it is asleep.

Final post from Portrait of an Invisible Man: The Working Life of Stewart McAllister, Film Editor by Dai Vaughan (1983):

… The Victorians called a biography a ‘life.’ But the difference between a life and a ‘life’ is that the latter, if it is to be comprehensible, must cohere into a meaning, whereas the former, being always incomplete until too late, cannot. Inevitably the meaning of the ‘life’ will be one not acknowledged by the subject, since any meanings he or she may have provisionally attributed to the life will, to the extent that they are known, be already accommodated within it. The Life of an Artist has found its own solution to this difficulty.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] For the Artist, the climax of the tale — the closure of its narrative and the justification of all its necessary meanderings — occurs at the point where the mess and the dither and the plain ordinariness are shown to meet in divine congruence with the Work: when the person is shown to have become not only the one who did produce this work, but the one who was inevitably to do so. The biography must show how the ‘man’ became the ‘style.’ This is the transformation with whose expectation it can tease us and which we await as eagerly as, in less sophisticated fairy-tales, we await the transformation of the frog into a prince.

… The upshot of these practices is to promote, by aggregation, a tacit definition of the Artist as someone for whom this total assimilation of life into work can be convincingly argued; and this has two consequences: first, that anyone whom society wishes to dignify with the appellation ‘artist’ will be shoe-horned into this pattern, the appellation thereby becoming progressively more impacted with use; second, that anyone who cannot be made to fit the pattern will be denied the status of ‘artist’ altogether — and, with it, any recognition of personal investment in his or her work. This last clause covers film editors. No sooner had I begun to realize that what I was doing was writing a biography than I began also to notice that the rules I was taking for granted — the structuring expectations of the genre — were not available to me.

… the familiar biographic tradition pays no honor to artists, but embalms them in myth: that the elision of work and person serves to posit them as beyond us, indeed as beyond themselves; and that their dedications, displaced to the plane of definition, become less truth than truism, not example but proxy. It is this construction which sits at the root of that perception of atisthood as a state of wholeness, a state to be desired from the outside, which we encountered earlier and whose threatened withdrawal — the withdrawal, that is, not of any part of their function but solely of title to the designation ‘artist’ so dismayed some of documentary’s early adherents.

… But nevertheless, the fact that the pre-structured coherences were not available as matrices of expectation has meant that the question of the coherence of McAllister, as a person among other people, has become — as has periodically become apparent — acute. Every now and again, unable to throw off the feeling that it was required of me, I have toyed with formulations for the grand synthesis. McAllister was a man who took a Wrong Turning and was unable to find his way back. Seduced by the war into believing he could reconcile the timescales of worker and dilettante, he … McAllister was the Craftsman who Forged his own Irons. His mental processes having become inseparable from the exercise of certain specific skills, he failed to … McAllister was the Holy Fool of Socialism. Behaving as if the revolution had already happened, he was brought into inevitable conflict with that most contradictory of all capitalist institutions, the Trade Union, and thereafter …

The most noticeable thing about these scenarios is their pretentiousness.

… Time after time, when people were talking to me about McAllister, they would tail off and gaze into the distance with a slight frown, as if looking for something they knew was there but had unaccountably mislaid. It as a look I came to recognize. Had McAllister been a director, people would have brought to mind things he had said and done which could be construed as illuminating his preoccupation, style or methods. But for an editor the model of the demented artist was not found proper. His unremitting application was therefore perceived — or rather, one might say, had been entered into the brain’s index — as eccentricity; and what was recalled about him were the stories — good pub anecdotes — which had accreted around this. Of course, everyone knew there was really more to it. That was what they were seeking when the look crossed their faces. But the ‘more’ seemed no longer to be there.

One might say that McAllister is not remembered at all. What is remembered is a scattering of incidents in which he figured. Moreover I had somehow imagined, at the beginning that with sufficient perseverance I would at least discover the ‘facts’ of his life. Only gradually did I realize that a process of irreversible information-decay had already been at work, and that many of these facts no longer existed in any form, physical or mental.

[ … ]

… an editor is someone who sits in a darkened room casting lots among shadows and falling in love with the world while it is asleep.

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




April 8, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… It leaves bones and echo in the cave

This is from an untitled essay by Lars Norén found in Cindy Sherman: Untitled Horrors (2013):

… The self-absorbed pose fraught with echoes and earlier works The gaze that does not see That does not even want to be seen Everything that does not tell The last one of course not the last emptiness in our forgetting of being Images that confirm and contain the forgetting of being Stills from a film that evoke powerful but elusive memories of many films we cannot remember and have not seen This could be me too in spite of my authentic self This much time these preparations were crucial to making the image the one it is and form the most essential component of the image This could be the way I look This could be the look in my eye if I could see what lent it that expression All expressions the most beautiful most unconscious sacred in particular are untrue

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #3, 1977

… You can be too concerned that the image should tell what you want it to tell so that it cannot be concealed What is the being or the essence in these photographs that represents a time Not in what they do not say Not inside them or round about them We will not see all of them even if we stop to look at them We will take with us one or two and insist that is what we saw We will not appreciate all of them Only the ones that ask our own questions

… The self as a predator that cannot distinguish the one from the other She enters the simplification exaggeration or impoverishment of every provisional state She adopts an observer’s stance outside herself Simply existing which is to exit The image as exiting The insatiable curiosity of the clinical gaze Diagnosis: the clinical gaze

… If I was the one in these photographs Would I discover something I had not known about myself before and that could only be seen by means of the photographic act and its outcome No one is more a stranger to yourself than you are in the moment that arises before you understand it is yourself that you are observing Everything we will lose is here Maybe not everything but a very great deal The possibilities perhaps we were incapable of discovering or there was not time to realize because leaving behind what we already had would take so long

… Her life sheds light to some extent on her photographs Her face sheds light to some extent on her faces Her photos are never the last Their sometimes being seen in such a way that they are no longer seen is not her fault

… The great danger of narcissism is the image in the pool falls in love with the person looking at it Who cannot just get up and go Cannot act It leaves bones and echo in the cave Art is bones and echo

Last week’s Sherman post is here.




April 7, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… rather than regard it as either a charming or regrettable digression from the greatness of tradition … think of the grotesque as … a powerful current that continuously stirs calm waters …

This is from the title essay by Robert Storr found in Disparities & Deformations: Our Grotesque (2004):

… We are taught to choose our words carefully, lest they betray us.

… One of the most efficient ways of disciplining language so as to limit misunderstanding is to radically prune the variant usages that flourish around a given term — elaborating the connotations it has acquired over time — and, instead, define it solely by its basic denotations. Name it and nail it; that is the leveling tendency implicit in most appeals to plain talk, and the instrumental one mandated by businesslike pragmatism. There is a more elevated motive as well. The idea of “purifying the language of the tribe,” to borrow Stéphane Mallarmé’s phrase, is one of the primary impulses of modernism. Other programs for cleansing art of the embellishments and blemishes introduced by Baroque or Romantic grandiloquence were advanced by still more draconian formalists from the late nineteenth through the twentieth century. Iconoclasts of similar stripe are with us today. But the distinction between sticking to essentials with the goal of yielding unalloyed truths and constraining language to enforce norms of behavior is a fine one at best, and at worst no distinction at all.

Martin Schongauer, Saint Anthony Tempted by Demons, ca. 1480-90 [image from the Met Museum]

[ … ]

… In the 1970s, Susan Sontag denounced [Diane] Arbus as a narcissistic tourist in the land of the miserable and the misshapen, a purveyor of ethically cheap thrills that debased the standards of concerned photography:

Arbus’s work is a good instance of a leading tendency of high art in capitalist countries: to suppress, or at least reduce, moral and sensory queasiness. Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. … The gradual suppression of queasiness does bring us closer to a rather formal truth — that of the arbitrariness of the taboos constructed by art and morals. But our ability to stomach this rising grotesqueness in images (moving and still) and in print has a stiff price.

… Lost in such critical shorthand, is a full appreciation of the grotesque’s astonishingly protean artificiality and its capacity for inspiring genuine delight as well as provoking disquiet.

In contrast to idealistic modes thought to embody what is most becoming in nature, hence most noble in culture, no other mode of art is so frankly and so subversively artificial. The sometimes confrontational but frequently seductive manner in which the grotesque calls received aesthetic wisdom into doubt is precisely what has recommended it to artists from so many different periods and of such dissimilar styles and intentions. Indeed, rather than regard it as either a charming or regrettable digression from the greatness of tradition — or from a modernist vantage point, as a swampy bywater of the mainstream — it is more useful and more accurate to think of the grotesque as a full-fledged, multilayered countertradition, a powerful current that continuously stirs calm waters, sometimes redirecting their flow.




April 6, 2015

Of Greater Importance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Then you realize … that one’s better than the others and you ask yourself why that is.

Continuing through Gerhard Richter: Doubt and Belief in Painting by Robert Storr (2003):

… Whereas [Brice Marden, Robert Ryman, and other abstract painters in search of objective beauty] chose categorically nonrepresentational painting and approached the problems it posed as an affirmation of painting’s essential self-sufficient and open-ended future. Richter backed into abstraction. Initially, it wasn’t even his aim to paint [gray] monochromes as such. Rather, they seem to have resulted from two discoveries, one positive and the other negative. First came the realization that the transitional intervals in the paintings on which he was working — the zones of ambiguity within or around the image — were of greater importance to him than the image itself. Thus, as early as 1965 he wrote: “All that interests me is the gray areas, the passages and tonal sequences, the pictorial spaces, overlaps and interlockings. If I had any way of abandoning the object as the bearer of this structure, I would immediately start painting abstracts.”

Saying this, Richter had already characterized the kind of abstraction toward which he was heading, and it was not the realm of pure formalist painting (clear-cut constructs, consistent gesture, well-defined color, with a preference for black, white, or primary hues) but a murkier painterly dimension where none of the compositional elements of a work fully declares itself, no matter how schematic the design or systematic the paint application might be or how evenly blended the varying shades of gray being used. Richter’s second discovery was overpainting or, as he also referred to it, inpainting or un-painting.

Richter’s method is basically additive or at least cumulative, the covering up of one layer by another, although this frequently involves the deliberate skinning of a painting’s surface with a hard-edge tool, smearing the top coat, and mixing it with the still-moist undercoat, which is kept that way by the liberal use of carnation oil and other mediums that retard drying. In that sense, Richter nearly always paints a la prima, or wet into wet, with the result that the sometimes heavily sedimented canvases seem all of a piece because they “cure” slowly, ensuring that the enriched pigment retains a uniform freshness.

… “It was the ultimate possible statement of powerlessness and desperation. Nothing, absolutely nothing left, no figures, no color, nothing. Then you realize after you’ve painted three of them that one’s better than the others and you ask yourself why that is. When I see eight pictures together I no longer feel that they’re sad, or if so, they’re sad in a pleasant way.” [Richter]

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




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