Unreal Nature

May 21, 2016

With Contingency, We Are Drawn In

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

… contingency dominates and the predictability of general form recedes to an irrelevant background.

Final post from Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould (1989):

… I have been too apologetic so far. I have even slipped into the rhetoric of inferiority — by starting from the premise that historical explanations may be less interesting and then pugnaciously fighting for equality. No such apologies need be made. Historical explanations are endlessly fascinating in themselves, in many ways more intriguing to the human psyche than the inexorable consequences of nature’s laws.

[line break added] We are especially moved by events that did not have to be, but that occurred for identifiable reasons subject to endless mulling and stewing. By contrast, both ends of the usual dichotomy — the inevitable and the truly random — usually make less impact on our emotions because they cannot be controlled by history’s agents and objects, and are therefore either channeled or buffeted, without much hope for pushing back.

[line break added] But, with contingency, we are drawn in; we become involved; we share the pain of triumph or tragedy. When we realize that the actual outcome did not have to be, that any alteration in any step along the way would have unleashed a cascade down a different channel, we grasp the causal power of individual events. We can argue, lament, or exult over each detail — because each holds the power of transformation.

… Our own evolution is a joy and a wonder because such a curious chain of events would probably never happen again, but having occurred, makes eminent sense. Contingency is a license to participate in history, and our psyche responds.

… Invariant laws of nature impact the general forms and functions of organisms; they set the channels in which organic design must evolve. But the channels are so broad relative to the details that fascinate us! The physical channels do not specify arthropods, annelids, mollusks, and vertebrates, but, at most, bilaterally symmetrical organisms based on repeated parts. The boundaries of the channels retreat even further into the distance when we ask the essential questions about our own origin.

[line break added] Why did mammals evolve among vertebrates? Why did primates take to the trees? Why did the tiny twig that produced Homo sapiens arise and survive in Africa? When we set our focus above the level of detail that regulates most common questions about the history of life, contingency dominates and the predictability of general form recedes to an irrelevant background.

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




May 19, 2016

Seeing the Grain

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:58 am

… The wind that moves across the mountain-scapes and fields … , continually altering the light and the composition, is “blowing” across the “field” of the film image as well.

This is from The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place by Scott MacDonald (2001):

… Like much nineteenth-century landscape painting, nature writing is generally elegiac, a plea — to put it in Leopold’s words — ‘for the preservation of some tag-ends of wilderness’ within the unpreventable, combined forced of the ‘exhaustion of wilderness in the more habitable portions of the globe’ and the ‘world-wide hybridization of cultures through modern transport and industrialization.’

[line break added] By the 1960s, in fact, the hunger for solitude in nature could be (momentarily) assuaged in only three ways: by going to the remotest areas left on the globe (as Barry Lopez does in Arctic Dreams (1968) … ) ; by learning to focus with great intensity on extremely limited spaces, as is done in many Japanese gardens and in the painter Charles Burchfield’s explorations of his backyard, and finally, by learning to see the interplay of development and natural biota with new eyes. This last approach informs the two most remarkable seasonally structured American independent films I’m aware of: Larry Gottheim’s Horizons (1973) [see my earlier post]; and Nathaniel Dorsky’s Hours for Jerome (1982).

… While Dorsky certainly admires the best of the commercial cinema and is in sympathy with many independent critiques of industry ideology, his commitment is to use filmmaking as a spiritual practice that can help us refine our vision in an era he sees as addicted to distraction.

Hours for Jerome is the quintessential ‘psychedelic’ film, not in what has become the pejorative sense of the word (Dorsky does not provide us with hallucinations verging on the psychotic), but in the liberating sense of the term so widespread in the late sixties …

[ … ]

I think when you have the occasion to step away from agendas — whether it’s through circumstance or out of some kind of emotional necessity — then you’re often struck by the incredible epiphanies of nature. These are often very subtle things, right on the edge of most people’s sensibilities. My films try to record and to offer some of these experiences. [Peter Hutton]

Hutton allows a revelation of the motion of the world to speak directly to the viewer’s senses, mind, and spirit. Indeed, this perceptual subtlety and implicit spiritual connection is Hutton’s gift to the sleeping child in the film’s [Landscape for Manon (1986)] closing shot, and to the filmgoer-as-sleeping-child. We are often more oblivious than real children to the visual subtleties of the world.

… while the graininess of Hutton’s shots may contradict the desire to ‘get out of the way’ so obvious in Hutton’s timing and composition, it is most usefully positioned as a synthesis of what at one time seemed conflicting concerns. … The wind that moves across the mountain-scapes and fields in Landscape (for Manon) and above the city in New York Portrait, Part I, continually altering the light and the composition, is “blowing” across the “field” of the film image as well.

[line break added] Indeed, the individual frame of Hutton’s film is a microcosm that, by means of film grain, encodes the macrocosmic developments the shots depict: the particular is the general. Just as his meditative gaze makes no fundamental distinction between rural and urban locales — both are places in which people live, and both are in a continual process of transformation by both societal and natural forces — Hutton makes no fundamental distinction between material realities outside and inside the camera. The function of filmmaking, for Hutton, is to use the camera as a means of revealing outer and inner realities, the material and the spiritual, as the fundamental unity that in fact, they are.

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




May 18, 2016

Like a Delirious God

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… Photography is both Medusan and Protean. It does congeal what it sees, but it also sets itself, and with it its referent, into motion.

This is from the title essay by Cadava, found in The Itinerant Languages of Photography edited by Eduardo Cadava and Gabriela Nouzeilles (2013):

Photography is mad, even insolent. It refuses to be fixed or to be defined in a determinate way.

… In reviewing the history of photography, the only thing we can say with any kind of clarity is that a photograph has never been a single thing, has never had a consistent form, has never remained identical to itself. Instead it has continually been altered, transformed, and circulated and is by definition itinerant.

… the image inscribes us into its nearly surreal space, into this strange photograph that, before our very eyes, ruins the distinctions it proposes and unites us in relation to this ruin. It bequeaths to us a space — the space of the photograph as well as the photographed space — in which we can no longer know what space is. It offers us a time — the time of the photograph and the photographed time — in which we no longer know what time is.

[line break added] The limits, the borders, and the distinctions that would guarantee our understanding of the image have been shattered by a madness from which no determination can be sheltered, by a “strategy that unites us” within a time-crossed space that joins the past, the present, and the future in such a way that none of them can exist alone.

The next is from co-editor Nouzeilles’s contribution to the collection, ‘The Archival Paradox’:

… Paradoxically, the compulsion toward archival accumulation reveals not the strengthening of memory, its mounting victory, but rather its silent vanishing. The withering away of memory is the negative outcome of a modernity obsessed with the new: “The less memory is experienced from the inside, the more it exists only through its exterior scaffolding and outward signs — hence the obsession with the archive that marks our age, attempting at once the complete conservation of the present as well as the total preservation of the past. … Memory has been wholly absorbed by its meticulous reconstitution. Its new vocation is to record, delegating to the archive the responsibility of remembering, it sheds its signs upon depositing them there, as a snake sheds its skin.” [Pierre Nora]

… Suspended on the surface of film, printed on sheets of paper, or projected on screens or fabric or glass, photographs make visible the ‘skin’ of memory, being both the spectral shadow of a trace and its physical materialization.

… In order to prevent things and events from disappearing by chance into an amorphous mass or from withdrawing into anomic space, the archive itself seems to operate as a photographic machine that regulates the production of archaeological insights through the manipulation and selective recording of traveling light, so that past events shine, as it were, “like stars, some that seem close to us shining brightly from far off, while others that are in fact close to us are already growing pale.” [Michel Foucault]

Every photograph is a priori an archival object. The camera’s capacity to link its act of mechanical inscription to the allegedly indisputable fact of the referent’s existence at a certain point in time constitutes the basis of the dominant understanding of photography as a mode of representation.

… The result is the production of a generalized “archive effect,” which gives the subject the sense that she or he can hold the whole world in her or his mind (or hands), as if it were an anthology of images: a picture-world.

… Through photographic excising and archivization, reality as such is redefined as “an item for exhibition, as a record for scrutiny, and as a target for surveillance.” [Susan Sontag]

… because it is itinerant, because it moves, there is always the chance that it will be unsettled, undermined, sabotaged, erased, or even smashed. The archive is caught in a kind of double bind: it is simultaneously defined as an inert, rational repertoire of historical artifacts ruled by a totalizing system of knowledge and power, and as an active, porous, senseless machine, always on the verge of collapse, disrupted by contradiction and irrelevance — a Borgesian labyrinthine library “whose vertical wildernesses of books run the incessant risk of changing into others that affirm, deny, and confuse everything like a delirious god.”

… The paradoxical condition of the archive — the hesitation between inscription and itinerancy — is intrinsic to photography itself. Photography is both Medusan and Protean. It does congeal what it sees, but it also sets itself, and with it its referent, into motion. It both mummifies and sets free.




May 17, 2016

Learning How to See

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… They are not satisfied with the knowledge of what they think they know about something — like true empiricists, they are always gathering more data.

This is from Contemporary American Realism since 1960 by Frank H. Goodyear, Jr. (1981):

… The subject matter of Pop Art (and Pop sculpture) was based on familiar materials — brand-name goods and other ordinary images taken from popular culture — that had a precoded information level. As Lawrence Alloway said, it was an art about signs and sign systems. Contemporary realist sculptors who use images from everyday life as their subject matter share this with Pop sculptors, but their work differs in three important ways.

[line break added] First, their art is not based upon the desire to borrow “signs.” Indeed, they have chosen as their subject nonprecoded images, not limited by a priori ideas. Second, their attitude to subject matter is less satirical and caustic; it is more affirmative in its genuine appreciation of the beauty inherent in the most ordinary objects.

[line break added] Third, realist sculpture is not so much predicated upon an object-making mentality — although realist sculptors do make real-looking objects — as it is upon the perception of those objects. As Jud Nelson, who makes meticulously detailed styrofoam as well as marble sculptures, has said, “If there is one activity that takes place in my studio, it is learning how to see.”

Jud Nelson, Wonder Bread No. 3, 1977

… [Nelson’s] subjects — sunglasses, slices of bread, teabags, Popsicles, mousetraps, and the like, seen in multiples of six — are records of Nelson’s perceptual acumen, of his need to detail the slightest features of an object with the utmost fidelity, as well as records of his own working processes. … His life-size objects are derived from real objects and not photographs of them, and are not about the objects themselves but about the act of perception.

[line break added] Working in the series format … , Nelson believes that one’s perception of objects is increased if one sees them individually and comparatively so that the nuances of each state become clearer while the observer decides whether to regard [the] objects as six exact duplicates or six unique objects.


[ … ]

… No matter what their bias, formal or phenomenological, contemporary realists share a basic concern for visual perception. They like to give the viewer a lot to look at. They like to test their own ability to see at the same time that they challenge ours. They are not satisfied with the knowledge of what they think they know about something — like true empiricists, they are always gathering more data.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 16, 2016

This Was a Beginning

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:35 am

… it becomes more and more unknown, more and more beautiful. The closer I get, the more it grows and further away it moves.

This is from ‘My Long March,’ a 1961 interview with Pierre Schneider found in Alberto Giacometti: Works, Writings, Interviews by Angel González (2006):

[ … ]

Alberto Giacometti: … Before, reality had been something familiar, banal, or let’s say stable. This came to a complete stop in 1945. For example, I realized that there hadn’t been any interruption between going to the cinema and coming out of the cinema: I’d go to the cinema, see what happened on the screen, come out, and nothing would astonish me, in the street or in a café …

Pierre Schneider: So there was no separation between the image you saw on the screen …

A. G: … and the reality of the street. My view of the world was a photographic view, as I think almost everyone’s is, near enough. We never see things, we always see them through a screen. The same goes for a certain type of painting. Nowadays almost all painters, if they want to produce a landscape, see it through Impressionism (the last valid pictorial vision of the outside world is Impressionism).

[line break added] And then all of a sudden there was a break. I remember very clearly, it was at the Actualités in Montparnasse. First of all, I no longer knew what I was seeing on the screen: instead of its being figures, it was becoming black and white blobs, that’s to say they were losing all meaning, and instead of looking at the screen I kept looking at my neighbors, who were becoming something altogether unknown. It was the reality around me that was the unknown, not what was happening on the screen.

[line break added] Going out on to the boulevard I had the feeling of being faced with something I had never seen before, with a complete change in reality — the unseen, the altogether unknown, marvelous. The Boulevard Montparnasse took on the beauty of the Arabian Nights, fantastic, altogether unknown. And at the same time, the silence, an unbelievable sort of silence. And then this grew.

[line break added] Every morning when I woke up in my room, there was the chair with the towel on it, and that affected me and made me almost feel a chill down my spine, because everything had an air of absolute stillness. A sort of inertness, of loss of weight: the towel on the chair was weightless, had no relation to the chair, the chair on the floor didn’t weigh on the floor, it was kind of inert, like that, and this gave a sort of feeling of silence. This was a beginning.

[ … ]

A.G.: … for me, reality is still as unknown and unexplored as the first time any attempt was made to depict it. That is to say, all representations produced to date have only been partial. In my view, the outside world — whether it be a head or a tree — does not exactly match the representations of it produced so far. It does in part, but there is still something I see which does not appear in the paintings or sculpture of the past.

[line break added] This is so since the day I began to see … for I used to see through a screen. In other words, through the art of the past, and then I gradually began so see a little without the screen, and the familiar became unfamiliar, totally unfamiliar. It was dazzling, and at the same time impossible to render.

… the more I work the more I see differently. I mean, everything grows larger, day by day. Basically it becomes more and more unknown, more and more beautiful. The closer I get, the more it grows and further away it moves.





May 15, 2016

Forces That at Any Moment Could Turn into Fact

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… not to fashion a nostalgic hymnology, but to communicate with the past by stripping it of its clothes (its different historical interpretations) and presenting it to us simply as it is: as forces that an any moment could turn into fact.

This is from ‘The Erography of Cy Twombly’ by Demosthenes Davvetas (1987) found in Writings on Cy Twombly edited by Nicola Del Roscio (2002):

… In the case of Twombly … that which will be altered is never ultimately transformed into that which is already altered: “graphing” itself seems to be continuous; the graph itself never seems to want to stop being that and that alone. Twombly’s are inscriptions that never want to take on a definite form, that is, to join with the other familiar marks of recognition in our record (text) of culture.

On the contrary, these are inscriptions that only scratch at and harass that text.

… This, then, is the spirit of “erography” — erotic, but also errant and erratic — that informs all of Twombly’s work, always suggesting a language but never allowing it to become reduced to an alphabet, always generating an emanation of character but never becoming a set of individual characters, like those in an alphabet, that would be obliged to take the shape of a word or phrase. Instead, we might say, Twombly’s work is a reification of an erratum, a page on which the artist inscribes his own errors, but simultaneously an erratum demanding that we examine the presumably “errorless” authority of cultural text.

… he rearticulates the “well known” as the “less known” and the “even less well known,” etc. to the point where it is barely “known” at all, until it could not possibly become something “known,” even something “recognizable” in the history of civilization.

… The work of Cy Twombly, then, can be likened to a permanently open door, where the door itself is a passageway, but where the art and artist stand permanently “in between.” In between, the artist is empowered to work outside of mannerisms. In between is what gives priority to extension and tension, and to the organic, and harmonic — over the geometric — spirit.

… The passion and the obsession of this American artist’s work is to be eternally present, and to be eternally present, time cannot be cut up into slices of “before,” “now” and “after.” For “I am present” means: I am in motion, I can travel to different times. It means: I am “here” but simultaneously I can go “there,” I can visit the “once upon a time” and I can visit the “someday.”

… Consequently, when Twombly uses myths, poetry, and old masters in his work, it is not to fashion a nostalgic hymnology, but to communicate with the past by stripping it of its clothes (its different historical interpretations) and presenting it to us simply as it is: as forces that at any moment could turn into fact.


My most recent previous post from this book is here.




May 14, 2016

Definitely Wrong or Probably Correct

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… we are trying to account for uniqueness of detail that cannot, both by laws of probability and time’s arrow of irreversibility, occur together again.

Continuing through Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould (1989):

… We talk about the “scientific method,” and instruct schoolchildren in this supposedly monolithic and maximally effective path to natural knowledge, as if a single formula could unlock all the multifarious secrets of empirical reality.

… These procedures are powerful, but they do not encompass all of nature’s variety. How should scientists operate when they must try to explain the results of history, those inordinately complex events that can occur but once in detailed glory? Many large domains of nature — cosmology, geology, and evolution among them — must be studied with the tools of history. The appropriate methods focus on narrative, not experiment as usually conceived.

The stereotype of the “scientific method” has no place for irreducible history. Nature’s laws are defined by their invariance in space and time. The techniques of controlled experiment, and reduction of natural complexity to a minimal set of general causes, presuppose that all times can be treated alike and adequately simulated in a laboratory.

… But the restricted techniques of the “scientific method” cannot get to the heart of this singular event involving creatures long dead on an earth with climates and continental positions markedly different from today’s. The resolution of history must be rooted in the reconstruction of past events themselves — in their own terms — based on narrative evidence of their own unique phenomena.

… Historical explanations are distinct from conventional experimental results in many ways. The issue of verification by repetition does not arise because we are trying to account for uniqueness of detail that cannot, both by laws of probability and time’s arrow of irreversibility, occur together again. We do not attempt to interpret the complex events of narrative by reducing them to simple consequences of natural law; historical events do not, of course, violate any general principles of matter and motion, but their occurrence lies in a realm of contingent detail.

[line break added] (The law of gravity tells us how an apple falls, but not why that apple fell at that moment, and why Newton happened to be sitting there, ripe for inspiration.) And the issue of prediction, a central ingredient in the stereotype, does not enter into a historical narrative. We can explain an event after it occurs, but contingency precludes its repetition, even from an identical starting point.

… But historical science is not worse, more restricted, or less capable of achieving firm conclusions because experiment, prediction, and subsumption under invariant laws of nature do not represent its usual working methods. The sciences of history use a different mode of explanation, rooted in the comparative and observational richness of our data. We cannot see a past event directly, but science is usually based on inference, not unvarnished observation (you don’t see electrons, gravity, or black holes either).

The firm requirement for all science — whether stereotypical or historical — lies in secure testability, not direct observation. We must be able to determine whether our hypotheses are definitely wrong or probably correct (we leave assertions of certainty to preachers and politicians). History’s richness drives us to different methods of testing, but testability is our criterion as well.

[line break added] We work with our strength of rich and diverse data recording the consequences of past events; we do not bewail our inability to see the past directly. We search for repeated pattern, shown by evidence so abundant and so diverse that no other coordinating interpretation could stand, even though any item taken separately, would not provide conclusive proof.

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




May 13, 2016


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:26 am

It was both reflecting and setting the mood and the pace.

This is from Marc Camille Chaimowicz: Celebration? Realife, by Tom Holert (2007):

Colored lights from above, spotlights at floor level, two strobe lights and three mirrorballs speckling illuminated dots throughout the space, over the glimmering aluminum silver-painted walls. Pop songs blare out of two loudspeakers placed on the floor amongst a variety of objects which have been laid out: fresh-cut flowers, burning candles, vintage Polaroid equipment, a Super 8 camera mounted on a tripod, a Beethoven bust on a mirrored pedestal, a small replica of Rodin’s Kiss, copies of the ‘underground’ magazine International Times, an issue of the Silver Surfer by Marvel Comics, colored fairy lights, a harlequin hat, long strings of beads, women’s underwear, electric cables, glitter, confetti.

… One of Chaimowicz’s interests in addressing the audience was to dissociate the concept of collaboration from its literal definition and open it up to a figurative or metaphorical interpretation in which enjoying sensation, being stimulated by pop-kicks,, reading intertextual references, experiencing Proustian involuntary memories, hanging out, talking, socializing with the artist-as-host, all qualify as forms of collaboration.

… The involvement of the ‘visitor’ of Celebration? Realife differs significantly from the position of the ideal (and arguably normative) ‘viewers’ of an Anthony Caro sculpture or Frank Stella painting. Or, to take another contemporary European example, of Imi Knoebel’s Raum 19 (1968). The latter is a presentation of assorted fiberboard stretchers and colorless geometric wooden forms that is self-referential but also specific in its stylistic choices and use of the aesthetic issues of post-Minimalist sculpture

[line break added]  It is an installation that could be said to restore a perceptual or physiological immediacy, a notion characterized by Dan Graham as ‘art as pure consciousness or experience.’ Contrary to such a purifying task, Celebration? Realife is littered with specific cultural references and is highly dependent on its social and cultural context. The work is structurally much closer to Robert Rauschenberg’s Combines from the 1950s or Claes Oldenburg’s Store (1966) than it is to Minimalist sculpture.

… The question mark of the title is crucial here. ‘Celebration,’ if read as a stand-in for the joys of liberation and the hedonism of potentially transgressive counter or subcultural ‘experience,’ is divided by the serpentine sign of doubt from ‘Realife,’ a term whose meaning quite likely might imply the life in the realities of ‘class and empire.’ However, the question mark not only might function as a tool of division, it could also serve as a connection between the ahistorical materialism of libertine bliss on the one hand and the historical materialism of class consciousness and the everyday on the other.

At the core of Marc’s exhibit was this revolving mirrored globe, reflecting life. It was in a continuous activity. It was both reflecting and setting the mood and the pace. The emotional response was determined by that: it flooded the room; it brought you in; it subdued you; it hypnotized you. [Gustav Metzger]

… The reflection and dispersion of ‘life’ by the thousands of mirrored facets that also cast cosmic circular lines on the floor of the Gallery House can be read as if it were the organizational principle of the universe itself, as the generator of stars and planets.





May 12, 2016

A Concentration of Private Spaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:09 am

… what is disappearing is more precarious than what is arriving …

This is from The Garden in the Machine: A Field Guide to Independent Films about Place by Scott MacDonald (2001):

… For my father, whose hopes of a college education vanished the year he graduated from high school, when the Great Depression hit, the distant, wavering flames burning off petroleum fumes in Elizabeth [New Jersey] were candles lit in honor of America’s postwar industrial boom and the smoke that darkened the sky was incense — even the horrific stockyard smell near Secaucus (if we were entering Manhattan via the Lincoln Tunnel) was humorous: “P.U. Secaucus,” we’d laugh.

[line break added] Of course, the conclusion of our journey and the greatest product of America’s industrialization was New York City itself. It was the largest and, we assumed, the most dynamic city in the world. That seemed obvious from the panorama we could see from the top of the Empire State Building and from the awesome golden cavern of Radio City Music Hall, two of the inevitable goals of these [road] trips [from his childhood home in Easton PA].

… That the development of the modern cityscape seems to require the transformation, even the destruction, of rural and wilderness landscapes long distances away is a problem that increasingly confronts all thinking people who love both the dynamism of the city experience and the serenity of the traditional experience of nature. How can we achieve a sensible balance between the two?

[ … ]

… In the second shot after the title, “Water and Power,” O’Neill reveals simultaneously, the inside of a bare room with a small table and chair in front of an empty water-stained wall, filmed in time-lapse so that the sheets of light made by the sunshine coming from the window to the left and behind (the same windows, presumably, that we see in the first shot after the title) move from left to right, across floor and wall; and a blue sky with cumulus clouds, again recorded in time-lapse, moving from right to left on the same, far wall … . After a moment, the time-lapsed sky and clouds fade out and the movement of time-lapsed light through the bare room continues through the day until dusk and the screen fades to darkness.

[line break added] Next, a time-lapsed image of the moon — accompanied by the sound of a locomotive — moves diagonally across the frame from lower left to upper right (as if to signal the passing of the night following the day represented by the image of room and sky); and then, after another moment of darkness, a second “representative day” dawns, and we are tracking along the Owens Valley aqueduct from left to right (in time-lapse, to the accompaniment of jazz) — a desert mountain is visible in the background — and, a few seconds later, from left to right along the L.A. street where (time-lapsed) people go about their business.

O’Neill suggests the obvious; the modern city is not simply a public space or a set of public spaces, it is a concentration of particular private spaces as well. And while the city symphony form [of film] has assumed that the city is a space that can be dealt with as basically separate from the country, O’Neill suggests what we know to be true: every dimension of city life is made possible by alterations in the country that surrounds the city — and further, the very social and political power of modern cities, especially those of the American Southwest, is dependent on the water table of land hundreds of miles away.

… The city has always been with us (the population explosion has proliferated urban areas, but the urban has been central to human society throughout recorded history); and therefore, it has always been and will always be evolving, decaying, rebuilding, forgetting, remembering — a mix of the newest technological achievements and the remnants of ways of life in the process of being left behind.

[line break added] And since what is disappearing is more precarious than what is arriving, the photographer-filmmaker’s job is, as the narrator explains late in the film, to pass on our memories of our moment in the ongoing evolution of city life to the next generation — and to remind viewers not only that the constancy of change is our connection to earlier generations but also that the evidence of this constant change within the urban environment can be celebrated as well as mourned.

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




May 11, 2016

The Pursuit of Beauty and the Solicitation of Desire

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

Mapplethorpe’s most lasting impact as an artist was his redrawing of the boundary line of the aesthetic, to include that which had previously been excluded from it.

This is from the essay ‘Robert Mapplethorpe’s Queer Classicism’ by Jonathan D. Katz found in Robert Mapplethorpe: The Photographs by Paul Martineau and Britt Salvesen (2016):

… Many other artists photographed erotic, and even homoerotic, scenarios before and during Mapplethorpe’s career. But their work tended toward a mode of ostensible realism, as if to implicitly convey the idea that what was being photographed functioned in documentary terms, as a positivist account of what life looked like. By girding the erotic in a self-contradictory antirealism, a manifest staginess, Mapplethorpe ensures that eroticism in his photography is never merely a slice of life.

What sets Mapplethorpe’s work apart is that its eroticism is a function of its classicism, and vice versa. He made viewers look at the erotic in new ways precisely because of the way he photographed it. The treatment of eroticism (and especially socially marginal eroticism) with such bravura compels people to look closely and carefully at what many still prefer not to see. Furthermore, Mapplethorpe’s work seductively elicits a response of aesthetic pleasure from the encounter with images that might in other circumstances trigger discomfort or even disgust.

Mapplethorpe exhibition 2009 [image from Wikipedia]

… It would seem, indeed, that Mapplethorpe’s most lasting impact as an artist was his redrawing of the boundary line of the aesthetic, to include that which had previously been excluded from it. … The irony in this, an inherently political irony, is not in the familiar notion that “beauty is everywhere,” but rather that human sexuality, in all its permutations, aspires to the same transcendental possibilities as the most exalted religious subject — for they both deploy the flesh in an effort to lead beyond the flesh.

… Pornography and art, in Mapplethorpe’s formulation, shared the pursuit of beauty and the solicitation of desire — and any dividing line between these two kinds of looking was specious. On this score Mapplethorpe was clear, and he often articulated a hope to combine the raw, instinctive power of pornography with the formal beauty of fine-art photography with a view to generating a particularly vigorous hybrid of the two.

… Sexuality wasn’t in the photograph; it was the photograph, which is to say that Mapplethorpe’s classical affect was an indissoluble amalgam of his pictorial means and his subjects.

… A precisely composed and framed subject could make any image, even one that was flat-out erotic, into a paradigm of the classical. … If anything can become anything else, then the perception of essential difference is only that: a perception. Mapplethorpe’s art is a serious, even activist, triumph of style over substance.




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