Unreal Nature

February 8, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:03 am

… Defeated, exhausted and helpless you will perhaps go a little bit further.

This is from Agnes Martin: Writings edited by Herausgegeben von Dieter Schwarz (1992):

I hope I have made it clear that the work is about perfection as we are aware of it in our minds but that the paintings are very far from being perfect — completely removed in fact — even as we ourselves are.

[ … ]

One who has become all eyes does not see.
To try to understand is to court misunderstanding.
Not to know but to go on.
Anything is a mirror.
There are two endless directions. In and out.

[ … ]

I want to talk to you about “the work,” art work.
I will speak of inspiration, the studio, viewing art work, friends of art, and artists’ temperaments.
But your interest and mind is really “the work” — works of art.

[ … ]

There is successful work and work that fails but all of it is inspired. I will speak later about successful works of art but here I want to speak of failures. Failures that should be discarded and completely cut off.

I have come especially to talk to those among you who recognize these failures. I want particularly to talk to those who recognize all of their failures and feel inadequate and defeated, to those who feel insufficient — short of what is expected or needed. I would like somehow to explain that these feelings are the natural state of mind of the artist, that a sense of disappointment and defeat is the essential state of mind for creative work.

… I want to emphasize the fact that increase in disappointment does not mean going backward in anything. There is increased and decreased awareness, that is all, and increased awareness means increased disappointments.

… We do not every stop because there is no way to stop. No matter what you do you will not escape. There is no way out. You may as well go ahead with as little resistance as possible — and eat everything on your plate.

… As in the night. To penetrate the night is one thing. But to be penetrated by the night that is to be overtaken.

Defeated, exhausted and helpless you will perhaps go a little bit further.




February 7, 2018

Seeping Its Way Into

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:02 am

… It was largely accidental and ignoble.

This is from the editor’s Preface to Art and Photography edited by David Campany (2003):

Over the last three decades or so art has become increasingly photographic. Why phrase it this way around? Why not say photography has become art? Because that would suggest a kind of unity in the medium when in fact photography has ended up in art in diverse ways, for diverse reasons. This wasn’t the result of a recognition of a singular medium with singular credentials. Certainly photography has always had its champions who have spoken on its behalf, made attempts to give it an identity and tried to fashion it into something artistically unique, although they have rarely agreed on what it should be.

… By 1989 the photographic had been seeping its way into much of the most significant art practice for over twenty years, largely unannounced and rarely in the name of Photography. It had appealed to artists precisely because it didn’t seem to have an intrinsic character, a clearly definable identity. It didn’t belong to art: it belonged to everyone and no one, and what little baggage it had picked up in the hope of becoming a distinctive medium was intriguing but easy to ignore. It was photography’s lack of specialism that made it so special. And it still does.

… Art photography had always been wary of the popular character of the medium. Its aesthetic aspirations could be so easily thwarted by the colossal weight of its popular cultural ‘other,’ with its base indistinctness, simplicity, blank objectivity, industrial standards, entertainment value and disposability. These are things from which any art, traditionally defined, might wish to recoil. Yet these were also the very qualities that began to strike artists, with no vested interest in defending photography, as being significant.

… less flashy than Pop but perhaps more significant for the future development of photography in art was conceptualism. A largely retrospective term, it is applied to an art that wanted to put ideas, investigations and definitions first. It was a cerebral, theoretical and political practice that set out to examine the nature of communication, and the nature of art and artists. It wanted to see if an art was possible that did away with the mark of the hand, with the excesses of artistic selfhood, to deal with how meaning is made, both in the world and in art.

… Photography was essential to conceptualism but it approached it as a non-medium. There was no scramble to define its essence and no program about what it should be. Some of the most significant art of the late 1960s and 1970s was being made in a medium about which the artists didn’t really care too much, certainly not as guardians or spokespeople. And it could only have been made with that non-attitude.

… photography is inherently representational, inherently descriptive. It is thrown into the world (or the world is thrown into it) and is thus not at all pure or autonomous. Within conceptualism photography reflected on itself not by looking inwards to define a special or essential character but by looking outward to reflect on how mass culture understood photography, how it put its descriptive character to use in everyday life.

[line break added] This version of photographic modernism was the absolute opposite of Abstract Expressionism. It was ‘representational non-expressionism,’ a rejection of the self-consciously arty photograph in favor of the artless, dumb and plainly descriptive image. Within conceptualism photography restaged and estranged its social character. This idea is important in the sense that modernist art is usually thought to be all about the turning away from figurative representation.

[line break added] Photography’s modernism is a turning on representation. An impure reflection on its own impurity. But it took a while to realize that this is what it was. If conceptualism was the moment of photography’s modernism it wasn’t a modernism of the manifesto, of a declared intention for the medium. It was largely accidental and ignoble. It happened by default.

To be continued.




February 6, 2018

The Origins of Time and of Counting

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:50 am

… The origins of time and of counting seem in turn to lie somewhere between the cycles of the earth and the moon (with the human body as medium) and the lines of a journey, a life, toward change.

This is from Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory by Lucy R. Lippard (1983):

… Plotinus said about stone monuments already ancient in his day that the sages had “once understood that it is always easy to attract soul (or the universal essence) and particularly easy to keep it, by constructing an object fashioned so as to be influenced by it and to receive a share of it.” This is a good description of what many contemporary artists have been trying to do, often without permanent objects, focusing on immediate experience rather than cosmic knowledge.

… Process Art, Earth Art, Conceptual Art, and Performance Art shared a deemphasis on the final work and an emphasis on how it came to be. Sculptors — among them Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Iain Baxter, Richard Serra, Eva Hesse, and Dennis Oppenheim — explored gravity and random or naturally ordained activities like scattering, piling, leaning, breaking, by which matter and then shape are formed. Andre’s influential formal solution was to use flexible unfixed units like bricks and other “particles” and to take his sculpture back to “ground level” — to the floor or the earth — rejecting the pedestal and felling the traditionally anthropomorphic stance of heroic vertical sculpture by identifying with roads and journeys.

… When geologist Paul Leveson wrote that his task was “to interpret the earth to society, to bridge the gap between pattern and process,” he might have been describing the goals of these artists.

… The site-nonsite notion deeply affected the development of “site sculpture” (art made for specific outdoor locations) by making this leap between object and source, work of art and site and all surrounding views.

[ … ]

… Time, poised between the abstraction of distance and the concreteness of numbers, is in a sense the crux of this book, with its theme of forced synchronism. The origins of time and of counting seem in turn to lie somewhere between the cycles of the earth and the moon (with the human body as medium) and the lines of a journey, a life, toward change.

Ernst Cassirir has also pointed out that mythical time is always conceived “both as the time of natural processes and of the event of natural life.” Thus the determinedly “simple” art of the Minimalists and Conceptualists can be related to basic survival, seen as a way of coping with the clutter of modern specialization and going back to learn for oneself how humankind learned — within the “terrible simplicity of the archaic frame.” If one distrusts the value systems of this society, where does one look for alternatives? Back to the beginnings. Thus in much art about elementary systems there is a certain longing for precision that is simultaneously anti-technological and anti-romantic.

… Almost without exception, the most interesting, the most obsessive Conceptualists combined time and number in their work about perception separated from physical phenomena.

My previous post from Lippard’s book is here.




February 5, 2018

Trying to Figure Them Out

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… I see them as extraordinarily alert people actively trying to work things out.

This is from the introductory interview between Storr and editor Pietropaolo found in Robert Storr: Interviews on Art edited by Francesca Pietropaolo (2017):

[ … ]

Robert Storr: … For me the most crucial thing that [Pascal] says is that belief is separate from proof. And you should respect it in those terms. You shouldn’t try to prove everything you believe and you should admit it when you are making a leap of faith. And for what it’s worth, it’s exactly what Sol LeWitt thought.

Francesca Pietropaolo: That’s interesting!

RS: The first sentence of Sol’s Sentences on Conceptual Art (1967) is “Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach.” It’s almost what Pascal says, right? A great deal of criticism tries to take artists like LeWitt and Bob Ryman — people who have made amazing leaps of faith and have developed out of them enormously important bodies of work — and try to rationalize them, and explain that each decision was a conscious, rational decision. That’s not only untrue, but it also violated the spirit of the work.

[ … ]

RS: There is a very strange thing called the “art world” — which is basically all about business — and then there is the “art community,” composed of makers, critics, curators and many others, including some dealers, with a hand in creating the focus of our collective attention. What one reads about, for the most part, in the papers and in magazines is the art world, not the art community. What I’m interested in now, as before, is the art community; I try to stay as far away from the art world as I possibly can, while at the same time functioning within it to the degree required.

[ … ]

RS: Well, interviews are ways for me to further my own understanding. I tried to use the interview’s opportunity as a way to advance my own thinking about topics I am not totally sure of. I have the same attitude about writing. You don’t just write what you know or believe; you write about what you don’t yet know, and by the end of the writing you have a better grasp of what’s what and where you stand.

FP: So for you writing is akin to thinking out loud.

RS: I start thinking out loud about something that I care about. After doing some significant research, it’s writing itself as a process — sorting materials, ideas, and evidence — that leads me to some working conclusions. But they are working conclusions. I think that that’s why I am such a problem for the academic establishment, because I don’t have a discourse. I don’t believe in having a discourse. I do have positions, but not a position. I don’t see artists as examples of a larger argument of my own or anybody else. I see them as extraordinarily alert people actively trying to work things out. My task as a critic, and in doing the interviews, is trying to figure them out while they figure those things out.




February 4, 2018

Within Someone Else’s Horizon

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… What is realized in the novel is the process of coming to know one’s own language as it is perceived in someone else’s language …

Continuing through the essay ‘Discourse in the Novel’ found in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist (1981):

… The plot itself is subordinated to the task of coordinating and exposing languages to each other. The novelistic plot must organize the exposure of social languages and ideologies, the exhibiting and experiencing of such languages: the experience of a discourse, a world view and an ideologically based act, or the exhibiting of the everyday life of social, historical and national worlds or micro-worlds (as is the case with novels concerned primarily with description, everyday life or travel), or of the socio-ideological worlds of epochs (the novel-memoir, or various types of historical novel) or of age groups and generations linked with epochs and socio-ideological worlds (the Bidungsroman and Entwicklungsroman).

[line break added] In a word, the novelistic plot serves to represent speaking persons and their ideological worlds. What is realized in the novel is the process of coming to know one’s own language as it is perceived in someone else’s language, coming to know one’s own horizon within someone else’s horizon.

… An artistic hybrid demands enormous effort: it is stylized through and through, thoroughly premeditated, achieved, distanced. This is what distinguishes it from the frivolous, mindless and unsystematic mixing of languages — often bordering on simple illiteracy — characteristic of mediocre prose writers. In such hybrids there is no joining together of consistent language systems, merely a random combination of the brute elements out of which languages are made. This is not orchestration by means of heteroglossia, but in most cases merely a directly authorial language that is impure and incompletely worked out.

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




February 3, 2018

A Tiny Apparatus of Incredible Sensitivity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… some living pointer, trembling over the secret dial, flickers with terrible nimbleness …

This is from “two fragments” from ‘A Letter to a Friend’ found in Selected Writings of Paul Valéry (1950; 1964):

… Can you imagine the incomparable disorder that can be maintained by ten thousand essentially singular beings? Just imagine the temperature that can be produced in this one place by such a great number of prides, all comparing themselves. Paris contains and combines, and consummates or consumes most of the brilliant failures summoned by destiny to the delirious professions. … This is the name I give to all those trades whose main tool is one’s opinion of oneself, and whose raw material is the opinion others have of you.

[line break added] Those who follow these trades, doomed to be perpetual candidates, are necessarily forever afflicted with a kind of delusion of grandeur which is ceaselessly crossed and tormented by a kind of delusion of persecution. This population of uniques is ruled by the law of doing what no one has ever done, what no one will ever do. This is at least the law of the best, that is to say, of those who have the courage to want, frankly, something absurd. …

[line break added] They live for nothing but to have, and make durable, the illusion of being the only one — for superiority is only a solitude situated at the actual omits of a species. Each one founds his existence on the non-existence of others, but from them he must extort their consent not to exist … Please notice that I am only deducing what is contained in what is seen. If you doubt, just ask yourself where an effort leads to, which cannot be made but by one particular individual, and which depends on the particularity of men?

[line break added] Think of the real meaning of a hierarchy founded on rarity. I sometimes like to apply an image taken from physics to our hearts, intimately composed as they are of an enormous amount of injustice and a bit of justice in combination. I imagine in each of us an atom more important than the others, and composed of two grains of energy wanting to be separated. These energies are contradictory but indivisible. Nature has joined them forever, although they are furious enemies.

[line break added] One is the eternal movement of a large positive electron, and this movement generates a series of grave sounds which the inner ear, with no trouble at all, makes out to be a deep monotonous phrase: There’s only me. There’s only me. There’s only me, me, me. … As for the small, radically negative electron, it screams at the extreme pitch of shrillness, piercing again and again in the cruelest fashion the other’s egotistical theme: Yes, but there is so-and-so … Yes, but there is so-and-so … And so-and-so, and so-and-so! For the name changes, often …

A bizarre kingdom where all the beautiful things growing there are bitter food for all souls but one. And the more beautiful they are, the bitterer their taste.

Or again. It seems to me that every mortal possesses, very nearly at the center of his mechanism, and well placed among the instruments for navigating his life, a tiny apparatus of incredible sensitivity which indicates the state of his self-respect. There we read whether we admire ourselves, adore ourselves, despise ourselves, or should blot ourselves out; and some living pointer, trembling over the secret dial, flickers with terrible nimbleness between the zero of a beast and the maximum of a god.

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




February 2, 2018

Different Time at the Same Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

… Sustaining instruments like strings or the electric organ often move at a very slow rate of change in my pieces while chattering in their midst is a thriving anthill — the metropolis is buzzing, but the clouds overhead are passing calmly over a field.

This is from ‘The Desert MusicSteve Reich in Conversation with Jonathan Cott‘ (1984) found in Writings on Music 1965-2000 by Steve Reich (2002):

Jonathan Cott: All great events, William Blake once stated, start with the pulsation of an artery. It’s almost as if one could say, “In the beginning was the Pulse.” And in the beginning of The Desert Music, one immediately enters the realm of pulsation.

Steve Reich: Purely. And without anything else added. The opening of the piece is a kind of chorale, only instead of individual chords sounding for a given length of held notes, they’re pulsed; instead of a steady tone, you get rapid eighth-notes repeating over and over again, which sets up a kind of rhythmic energy that you’d never get if the notes were sustained. And that energy is maintained in different ways by the mallet instruments throughout the work.

[ … ]

JC: It becomes pulsation again.

SR: Pulsation and vocalise, pure sound. “I am awake / awake. The mind / is listening.” And off you go into pulsation. Words come to an end, and musical communication takes over.

JC: Two of the things that contribute to musical communication in The Desert Music are the amazing ways you use and develop a kind of rhythmic ambiguity that occurs in a good deal of African music, as well as a kind of simultaneous elaboration of simple musical materials at different speeds — something that is at the heart of Balinese music.

SR: Listening to umm-pah-pah, umm-pah-pah over and over again is intolerable and, indeed, a mistake. So if you want to write music that is repetitive in any literal sense, you have to work to keep a lightness and constant ambiguity with regard to where the stresses and where the beginnings and endings are.

[line break added] Very often, I’ll find myself working in 12-beat phrases, which can divide up in very different ways; and that ambiguity as to whether you’re in duple or triple time is, in fact, the rhythmic life-blood of much of my music. In this way, one’s listening mind can shift back and forth within the musical fabric, because the fabric encourages that. But if you don’t build in that flexibility of perspective, then you wind up with something extremely flat-footed and boring.

As for your second point about combining different musical speeds: years ago, someone said rather testily to me, “Don’t you ever write any slow music?” Actually, it was a good question. What I asked that person in response was, “In my Octet, are you going to concentrate on listening to the pianos — that’s the rhythm section of fast eighth-notes that never let up — or to the strings, which are playing much more spaciously?

[line break added] Sustaining instruments like strings or the electric organ often move at a very slow rate of change in my pieces while chattering in their midst is a thriving anthill — the metropolis is buzzing, but the clouds overhead are passing calmly over a field. And that gives the listener the possibility of not necessarily listening just to one thing or the other; it allows them to realize that different things are happening at the same time. What I’m trying to do is to present a slow movement and a fast movement simultaneously in such a way that they make music together.

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




February 1, 2018

As Recent History Has Painfully Taught Us

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… All abuses of power begin with the abuse of language.

Final post from Solar System & Rest Rooms: Writings and Interviews, 1965-2007 by (of) Mel Bochner (2008):

… My argument is with certain background assumptions of conceptualism, which posited language as a direct connection to the artist’s thoughts. To me this is as bogus as the notion that a brush stroke offers a direct connection to the artist’s emotions. During the ’60s there was a belief that language was transparent. You read the text, you “got” the point, the language dissolved into the idea.

[line break added] A lot of recent “word painting” still operates from that same uncritical position. But that misses the real problem, which is the politics of language, its hidden ideologies. All abuses of power begin with the abuse of language. Just read Orwell. What interests me is the opacity of language, because I don’t believe language takes you anywhere, except around in circles.

[ … ]

… After seeing the first group of Thesaurus Paintings, a poet friend observed, “These paintings prove that there is no such thing as a synonym.”

… What is the difference between the same words spoken aloud or spoken by the silent voice inside your head? Or as Paul Valéry put it, “Who speaks and who listens in the interior speech? If there is a voice there is an ear. … The ‘I’ is two by definition. The existence of speech from self to self is already the sign of a cut.”

… To say something or to remain silent is indeed the question, but how to say it, when and where to say it, are also questions that must be addressed. Whether in the public or the private domain, my recent work attempts to confront the ideologies and hidden agendas of language. Because, as recent history has painfully taught us, all abuses of power begin with the abuse of language.

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




January 31, 2018

For Those Who Are Awakening to Their Own Authority

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… I need suggest the difference between photographers who are making pictures and photographers who are using pictures.

This is from the essay ‘Self-Portraits in Photography’ by Ingrid Sischy (1980) found in Reading Into Photography: Selected Essays, 1959-1980 edited by Thomas F. Barrow, Shelley Armitage and William E. Tydeman (1982):

… I am convinced of the symbiotic relationship between portraiture and self-portraiture [in photography].

… Chauncey Hare made a portrait of Interior America, pictures of neglected hearths, the hearts of seldom noticed communities, those shadowed by mines, mills, and refineries. Interior America is dedicated “For those who are awakening to their own authority.”

… some women artists say that they trust their own views of themselves as subjects/objects much more than the way they have previously been photographed by men. To change that picture they have to make new pictures.

… a question that Lucas Samaras asks himself in his auto-interview in the Samaras Album is “Is it significant that you took the Polaroids yourself? His answer: “I suppose so, I was my own Peeping Tome. Because of the absence of people I could do anything, and if it wasn’t good I could destroy it without damaging myself in the presence of others. In that sense I was my own clay. I formulated myself, I mated with myself, and I gave birth to myself. And my real self was the product — the Polaroids.” Once again I need suggest the difference between photographers who are making pictures and photographers who are using pictures.

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




January 30, 2018

People Living Between Earth and Sky

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

Overlay is about what we have forgotten about art.

This is from the Introduction to Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory by Lucy R. Lippard (1983):

… My subject is not prehistoric images in contemporary art, but prehistoric images and contemporary art. What I’ve learned from mythology, archeology, and other disciplines is the overlay’s invisible bottom layer. My internal method is that of collage — the juxtaposition of two unlike realities combined to form an unexpected new reality. I have tried to weave together the ideas and images of very different cultures by making one a metaphor for the other, and vice versa.

… As a contemporary art critic, speculation is my element. I am a surrogate for the audience, a receptacle for all the collective speculations deriving from diverse backgrounds, associations, and psychologies. Like everybody else when confronted with an unfamiliar experience, I ask myself, “What do you suppose it means?” Such ruminations combined with the few available facts are the only source of ‘accuracy’ in a shifting field. There is no such thing as ‘objective’ art criticism, only degrees of longing for objectivity.

… Trekking across the vast, undulating, deceptively featureless landscape of the English moors — depending as much on intuition as on map and compass — sighting a distant silhouette against the sky (sheep? the promised stone circle?), or coming suddenly upon a single standing stone, I was glad there were no markers, no car parks, no brochures, glad to maintain a sense of discovery. The unpeopled megalithic sites and earth monuments, like more recently abandoned ruins, bring us back to art in an unselfconscious context. Freedom from my own daily space opened up new views of history.

… Art itself might be partially defined as an expression of that moment of tension when human intervention in, or collaboration with, nature is recognized. It is sufficiently compelling not to be passed by as part of ‘amorphous nature.’ One stops and asks oneself: Who made this? When? Why? What does it have to do with me?

Overlay is about what we have forgotten about art. It is an attempt to recall the function of art by looking back to times and places where art was inseparable from life.

… The social element of response, of exchange, is crucial even to the most formalized objects or performances. Without it, culture remains simply one more manipulable commodity in a market society where even ideas and the deepest expressions of human emotion are absorbed and controlled. I resist the notion that in modern times the task of image and symbol making should be relegated to one more frill on the ‘quality of life.’

… Unlike a towering skyscraper, a towering standing stone in the landscape seems not so much to dominate its surroundings as to coexist sensuously with them. It confirms the human need to touch, to hold and to make, in relationship to natural forces and phenomena. Even if we as individuals are cut off from any communal belief system or any collective work system, something seems to flow back to us through these places — which we see perhaps as symbols of lost symbols, apprehended but not specifically comprehended in our own socioreligious context.

I’d like this book to suggest the restoration of symbolic possibility in contemporary art. Artists may be aware of this subterranean layer, but the art public (as opposed to the lay public) has been conditioned to ignore it by the dominant art-for-art’s-sake ethos. Symbols are syntheses of changing multiple realities — higher forms than the simple commodity because they are both the vehicles of several levels of reality and of several levels of communal need. Perhaps what the prehistoric stone monuments still communicate is simply people’s need to communicate and the need for a symbolic intermediary that has always allowed the desires of makers and receivers to merge or intersect.

… Nature is considered relaxing. We don’t have to think about it or ‘appreciate’ it; we can just enjoy it. Banal statements about sunsets and lovely views are acceptable, whereas ‘Art’ seems to demand more and give less. It is puzzling, weighted with history and class pretensions. It is ‘man-made,’ and human-made objects must be approached warily, while natural things, though they too can be destructive, are mor simply embraced. Our attitudes toward nature are in turn a major component in the romanticization of ancient sites and artifacts. We tend to confuse our own romanticism about nature with the original purposes of the stones, mounds, and ruins.

Speculation about the close relationship between nature and culture in prehistory is not starry-eyed idealization, nor is it ahistorical fantasizing about a Golden Age. People living between earth and sky, with few human-made distractions, had to be far closer to natural forces and phenomena than people living on our crowded planet now. They were undoubtedly aware of the environment in ways lost to us.




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