Attack! and S-O-I-L Matters (November 2)
Since Folke Kobberling and Martin Kaltwasser presented their work to our group in the summer of 2010 I have been thinking about different values different societal strata have. I am relating in particular to one of their pieces titledWhite Trash:
White Trash, 2008
Here’s the information on the piece I found at this site:
“An SUV (sport utility vehicle) will be reconstructed using light-coloured wood and then parked on the central reservation in Karl-Marx-Straße in Neukölln. Over the course of four weeks, this reconstruction of the huge, tank-like Audi Q7 will occupy a number of parking spots. The exposure to the natural elements will cause the wooden structure to swell up, warp and gradually degrade to become white trash.
This piece by Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser focuses on the way public spaces have become dominated by selfish drivers and a transport policy that seeks to satisfy these drivers. A measure of this problem is the huge increase in the numbers of SUVs on the roads, despite CO2 and particulate matter pollution issues.
The artists have been dealing with the conditions of urban living in their projects since 2002, and they call upon us to go back to the idea of the city as a resource. By using materials that they have found, they offer a critique of the wastefulness inherent in capitalism”.
The thing is that at the time of that presentation my very own “white trash” – my new Audi Q7 was parked under the old yellow crane right outside Emily Carr University… It would be wrong to say I bought that “huge, monstrous SUV” (Folke Kobberling) only out of neccessity – you know, it is a very spacious SUV – takes all my rolled up paintings, all my studio equipment, wood, paints, etc. That was not the only reason. Another reason that I am not proud of was this shallow desire to show off – as an immigrant who made it (!), as a former Russian woman (in 1990 when we were leaving Russia only 3% of Russian women could drive a car and only 17% of the population actually owned one). Though most of the world’s immigrants would be bitterly insulted if they were accused of moving for economic reasons only (as yours truly certainly would), the cold facts of our consuming history in the adopted country speak for themselves.
So, on that hot July afternoon sitting on a pile of refused board panels – leftovers from the Olimpic Village kitchens’ construction which were about to be transformed into the future parts of the famous Bulldozer piece - I was thinking what enormous gap lay between my narrow-minded, egocentric self and those enthusiastic tanned German artists, so environmentally and ideologically savvy they even refused to have a car of their own. “Will my children ever grow that conscientious?” I wondered. There was probably, no hope for my generation of immigrants…
Several events that almost coincided this fall made me further explore this feeling of being an intruder – if not territorially then from the point of view of environmental and political awareness I definitely feel like one. First, we finally sold our Edmonton house, and no matter how much ‘stuff’ I donated while packing it up – I could not help but feel what huge producers of waste we actually became.
Second, my Internship Program takes me to Calgary twice a week. I am still driving my White Trash – just can’t give up that comfort – and wasting way too much gas – oil – S-O-I-L. Soil that you want to spell with a capital S – like the government officials who say “on American soil” or “on Canadian soil”. With a meaning of a ‘new place for your identity’. I am driving through these beautiful grain and grass fields of Alberta peppered with small (private?) oil pumps that look like some peaceful farm animals browsing in the open vistas… Is this bad to admit that it gives me some satisfaction??? We moved to Alberta because it was one of the quickest economically growing provinces in Canada. That probably rang to our immigrants’ ears as a promise of our future individual growth and prosperity. Safety, success, and a kind of ‘Canadian dream’.
Finally, another coincidence – a very lucky one for my growing conscience (and consciousness) was coming over the work of Annie Roy and Pierre Allard Attack! This work stirred a layer of relatively fresh memories of terror acts in Israel (the home country we left during the last intifada of 2001). Even the mere fact that this piece ‘travelled’ from city to city (Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary) sent a chill down my spine. I know what readings there are. Mine could be just way too close for comfort… It does not prevent me from admiring the piece. According to these two artists, Attack! is a “destabilizing and unequivocal experience whose graphic violence heightens the public awareness of the perverse effects of the veneration of these gas-guzzling, power-hungry vehicles” (Creative Expression, Creative Education, 119). With great interest I read that Roy and Allard had to work hard to prepare the public for the exposure to the piece in Calgary. This amazing sensitivity should leave politicians speechless: “By the time we got to Calgary, it had a different political momentum, as Alberta, with its massive oil sands, is the center of oil production in Canada. You cannot just put a work like this in the environment without getting information and knowing a bit more, and understanding what the potential implications are for the people live there” (121). The artists did their research in Alberta and engaged people who were knowledgeable of the industry and the problem. They accompanied the piece with information to “empower people with knowledge to better understand the problem”. Their piece of art became a point of view. The message was not that “oil is bad, but that it is precious and should not be wasted” (122).
Attack! #6, Annie Roy, Pierre Allard, 2008, Toronto
This work is a hyper-realistic scene depicting a terrorist attack incriminating – all at once- the automobile industry, consumers, and governments.
Meanwhile, with all these thoughts, I have been painting a piece with a working title
Per Aspera… to the Same Order of “Alphabetization”
Per Aspera… to the Same Order of “Alphabetization”
(Critical Notes on Luis Camnitzer “Alphabetization”, part 1&2, E-Flux Journal, 11/2009)
This future essay will focus on questions of art education and view several arguments on the subject made by Luis Camnitzer in his article “Alphabetization” through the lens of contemporary Linguistic Educational Psychology, pedagogical practice and … logic.
The central argument of “Alphabetization” is that art has traditionally been taught as literacy, starting with teaching the basic skills – as in letters recognition or ‘craft’. The author claims that this approach “becomes even more dangerous in art than it is in literacy”. In art, Camnitzer stresses, “exercises in building academic skills are designed for instant gratification and efficient grading, but also introduce aesthetic dogmas”. I am going to follow Camnitzer’s alternative way of doing things which he introduces in Part Two of his article – changing the order - and report his own order of preferences in art education (which I partially agree with):
The author offers a better, a “sane approach to pedagogy” in which he defines four important ‘steps’:
- Perception of a need to establish and order
- Explore the origin of this need, and the relevance of power relations
- Search for the most effective code to transmit (a new) order
- Mastering the code to achieve effective communication
While this new proposed by Luis Camnitzer order is truly a sane order of steps in contemporary pedagogy, what he uses it as an argument against – is more problematic. His claim is that there is no need in a preceding step in art education – teaching the alphabet, the basics – or the ‘literacy’ which he frequently alludes to. I believe that many art educators would agree that the first step of Art Fundamentals or Art Foundation requires many structural changes and I also know that the best personae in the field are introducing those changes into the system as we speak. My argument (that followed some wild amusement and some mild surprise which was my reaction to the initial reading of “Alphabetization”) is that most of the conclusions Camnitzer reaches in his article are made somewhat haphazardly, skipping certain facts for the sake of arguing the correctness of specific (and probably, pre-determined) outcomes.
Camnitzer chooses teaching literacy as a parallel to teaching art because both are based on “the recognition and execution of signs” (“Alphabetization”, Part Two). After examining the processes of coding and decoding that are obviously present in both art appreciation /art making (for some reason the author calls it “doing art” – as if specifically denying the traditional art education any possibility of teaching creativity) and reading/writing, Luis Camnitzer makes a shortcut to comparing art education to acquiring receptive skills only. And this is how he achieves this:
He quotes James Paul Gee that reading is understanding and writing is producing. “This”, he proceeds “puts reading in a category together with art appreciation and writing in a category with art making. Or, more specifically, one category refers to decoding while other refers to coding.” All true: while listening and reading are known as receptive skills, speaking and writing are considered to be productive skills in Linguistic Psychology. Very solid comparison to art making and art appreciation as well. Coding and de-coding.
The unexpectedness of the next statement makes me spill my coffee: “Art and literacy therefore come to be considered as completely separate entities”. How many steps have been missed here? Where have I lost the train of Camnitzer’s thought?
“Reading is the decoding of writing and thus together they presumably constitute a distinct and inseparable couple”. The author here works his individual (!) and thus, following his own thinking, elitist (!) way through the woods very energetically never stopping to see what was accidentally torn away by the resilient bushy aspera he is ignoring: “…literacy leads to an understanding of what other people have done or discovered”. True, but how about literacy being acquired as a tool for creative thinking and creative writing? What has been thrown out here with the dirty water? If literacy led to only de-coding, there would be no inspirational speakers and inspirational speeches; no thought –provoking non-fictional writing and no amazing poetry or novels. What a scary thought!
Luis Camnitzer meanwhile has come to a clearing of his own making in the woods I have just described: “The consequence is that society expects the written word to inform, while art is expected to reveal. Where they curiously find common ground is in how, despite differing definitions and expectations, both arrive at their destination only through proficiency” (emphasis mine). Camnitzer’s surprise is understandable – considering his rush to the pre-determined goals – it is easy to skip a step or two; probably even take a wrong turn. If the underlined statement was true, the ever written, printed and published material would consist of sets of instructions, manuals, various data recordings, and weather forecasts would be considered pieces of science-fictional writing at their best. Scarier still!
The best, however, is still to come… The author is in the driving seat now, accelerating through assumptions: “This common ground – making proficiency the foundation – is a curse for both”. (Meaning both literacy and art education) “In the case of literacy, the student is trained to see mastery of the craft of written language”, (not only in manuals and data recordings, hopefully – mine), “as the definitive route to freedom of expression, when the code itself embeds limits to possible meanings. In the case of art, the student is trained in the code of the craft, but without the luxury of being able to think that mastery of the craft will lead to success”. Here I would like to stop this passionate and argumentative flow of thought and consider for a moment why this luxury is granted neither in creative writing nor in art education to begin with. I would claim that the reason is that in both fields ideally not only one code of the craft is taught but an exposure to multiple codification systems is taking place, and thus multiple possibilities (or orders – thank you, Luis Camnitzer) are introduced. That fact in turn pre-supposes multiple possibilities for individual expression and communicating of an individual (!) message is made possible via new ‘orders’, tools, or means. To question orders as the author proposes, the students have to be acquainted with the existing multiple (!) orders, or the orders that have been in use in history of both writing and art making. If these students are here to come up with their own creative ideas, exposure to numerous references is supposed to enrich their bank of possibilities, and not at all limit their vocabulary to one and only “hegemonic language”. One [singular] order is, no doubt, dangerous, reactionary, and dogmatic. Lack of exemplified or demonstrated for triggering a creative process multiple ways (‘orders’) might result in a painstaking and extremely lengthy process of re-inventing a wheel. Anarchy is not only a lack of order. It is an order in itself. Given power, it becomes hegemonic – Luis Camnitzer is particularly eloquent in warning against ‘hegemonic’ – being it ‘orders’, ‘languages’, or policies.
Another major concern of the author in this piece of writing is the presence of an ‘instructor’ or ‘teacher’ in the institution of art education. That’s why he promotes co-learning and mentorship as a ‘horizontal’ relationship among the participants as opposed to ‘vertical’ instruction. With his personal account of his own art-education as a young student ‘back in Uruguay in the forties’ – it comes as no surprise that he argues against academic instruction at art institutions. However, many things have changed in the system of that education since ‘the forties’ (of the last century!). Much has been changed in the literacy and language learning as well. As an example I would like to quote a diagram on a successful framework for language learning as introduced by Jane Willis first in 1996 (!) Though this diagram is referring to language acqusition, I trust this example is appropriate as the author refers to the literacy and language teaching in his work:
Exposure To a rich but comprehensible input of real spoken and written language in use
Use Of the language to do things (i.e. exchange meanings)
Motivation To listen and read the language and to speak and write it (i.e. to process and use the exposure)
Instruction In language (i.e. chances to focus on form)
As we see in this diagram, the weight of instruction is reduced to being not “essential”, but “desirable” and serving or catering for the needs of the students for a particular purpose of delivering the formal component of the training. I would add that it is also meaningful for the facilitating of the exposure in favour of which I have been tolling here today. Hence, the most profitable and successfully facilitated learning has to comprise both horizontal and vertical models described by the author.
And now- for the title of Luis Camnitzer’s article which I find very telling. According to Thesaurus, ‘alphabetization’ has two meanings:
- Arranging in an alphabetical order
- Supplying with an order
I would argue here that neither of these meanings does any justice to the author’s intentions. He speaks in favour of students’ freedom of finding their own ‘order’, but ‘alphabetization’, unfortunately, offers or supplies only one – the alphabetical.
To be continued, improved, and further thought-over
1. Camnitzer, Luis. “Alphabetization”, E-Flux Journal, 11/2009
2. Willis, Jane. 1996. A Framework for Task-Based Learning. Edingburh: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 2001. Print
Fortleben: The Surviving Structure
Fortleben: The Surviving Structure.
This summer intensive was the brightest and sunniest summit of the 2010-2011 year for me, no matter the actual weather in Vancouver that some called disappointing. For the sake of not uttering empty statements I could offer a brief review of it in a more or less chronological order: our group presentations were highly informative, provided many interesting vantage points into the discourses that started a year ago; we have held fruitful discussions of each others’ practices, learned how to organize critiques and offer judgements that “spring from a work of art’s logic and… go beyond and against its limitations” (Sven Lutticken, 53). We learned how to organize our work within a group exhibition, while making compromises and decisions based on the idea of best exposure for everyone’s work. We also enjoyed a diversity of visiting artists’ presentations and had a glimpse into their experience of the contemporary art contexts. My group and I enjoyed and ‘endured’ the visiting artists’ critiques and registered every piece of advice for immediate and future use. We roamed shows together and exchanged opinions on readings.
I deliberately account for the Seminar in Dialogues and Interactions as undivided from the rest of the 2011 summer intensive because the seminar bears the name that could easily encompass the whole experience of the period since May 24 till July 30. That in my opinion, comprised what was the most valuable in the intensive – the dialogues and interactions with our instructors, fellow students, and visiting artists. The more focused outcomes and the more specific for my own artistic persona I dare put into the form of a hybrid between a credo and a ‘things to do’ list which might also resemble a manifesto:
- Never send to know for whom they speak, write or toll. Peel your eyes, open your ears: they speak, write, and toll for thee.
- Travel light. Do not hoard. Shake off the unnecessary. (“Take away the elements in order of apparent non importance” (The Game).
- Be voracious in reading but … go back to #2.
- Pursue self-reflexivity and re-contextualization.
- If you are prone to crumbling under questioning – have no fear – crumble! You will rebuild yourself later. You will rebuild yourself stronger.
- Friendly critiques are friendly. Seek the ferocious ones: they will kick you off-balance. That is the best position for a new start.
- Do not dismiss aggressive critiques/ critics. They have a point/position. Find out what that is.
- Crisis is an inevitable step in critical and self-critical process.
- If you hesitate between a facade touch-ups and demolition in your practice – go for demolition: “deep inside you know you deserve it!” (Joyce Lindermulder, 2010, 2011)
- Embrace the idea of kenosis – self-emptying in the spirit of openness to signals from above. Remember: new truths can strike at any time. Be radically open.
- “Judgement needs a critical ethos beyond a friendly set of checks and balances. It needs to be repeatedly deconstructed from within” (Tirdad Zolghadr, 13)
- Never shy away from questioning the questions, critiquing critics, and judging judges. Make sure the feedback you receive is really useful.
- Dissolve sugar-coats. Get to the core.
- Eleventh hour aspect is a friend, not a foe. Under pressure – act, do not idle.
- Chat over drinks with those who read annotations only. Have long conversations with those who indulge in reading from cover to cover. Always take notes.
- Learn how to use your work as a conveyer, not as a container (Atom Egoyan, 26).
- Never start your statements with “I might be mistaken but…” Speak up only when you have something to say. Noise is a major pollutant.
- Re-evaluate you own position as often as needed. Never sleep on it.
- Admire great innovative projects of others. Spread the word. “Create new audiences” (Kristina Lee Podesva, 124).
- Count yourself in. Not only others put things on the map. You do too.
- Asap: Decide whether your research is practice-led or theory-driven.
- “Welcome professional uncertainty, apprehension and interruption as good, clean, crazy fun” (Tirdad Zolghadr, 20).
- Self-centeredness is not self-indulgent: talk about yourself. “We have nothing but our better or worse selves through which to process the world” (Tom Morton, 35).
- Do not try to squeeze your life-story in a 15 minutes presentation. Describe a project instead. Let them ask questions.
- Follow the model of critique offered by Kristina Lee Podesva:
a. Describe what you see/ experience in a piece
b. Offer your interpretations of the piece
c. Come up with questions clarifying the artist’s intentions
d. Receive the artist’s answers; discuss them
26. Go back to square #2. Often.
- Egoyan, Atom. “Surface Tension”, Image and Territory, Toronto: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2006.
- Lutticken, Sven. “A Tale of Two Criticisms” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
- Morton, Tom. “Three or Four Types of Intimacy” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
- Lee Podesva, Kristina, ed. “Panel One” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
- Zolghadr, Tirdad. “Worse than Kenosis” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
(after Terra Infirma, by Irit Rogoff)
“Cartography is the signifying practice of both location and identity, a mode of writing through which we can uncover a set of general laws” – with this statement Irit Rogoff opens Chapter 3 which is devoted to the subject of mapping in visual arts. She deals with “un-mapping”, “re-mapping” and “counter-cartographies” that can be found nowadays in contemporary art practices. She looks into the signifying systems by which “knowledge is organized and conveyed” (73).
Rogoff considers “re-reading” and “re-writing” (and by extension, un-mapping and re-mapping) the contestation of post-Enlightenment theories of cognition. As some elements of mapping are starting to appear in my paintings I eagerly read this chapter for a broader view of similar practices and their rationale.
One of the aspects that I saw as the most important for my own thesis development was the “resituating a theory of cognition within lived experience” (74) as it entails examining the experience of concrete, qualitative subjects rather than seeking formal, transcendental conditions of subjectivity. An epistemological shift like this grants the interpretative authority to an actual subject, as opposed to an ‘objective’ system of knowledge.
Another aspect is mapping as an activity carried out by the subaltern, the marginal – the collective histories of those who “have not fitted into patterns of agency within universal, overarching histories” (74). Rogoff believes that mapping as an activity from the margins is “exceptionally instrumental” in re-situating of cognition. The author regards re-mapping, re-situating, and translating – a transfer - a form of claiming the original for other purposes, quoting Derrida :
Within the limits to which is possible, or at least appears possible,
translation practices the difference between signified and signifier.
But if this difference is never pure, translation is no more so and for the
notion of translation we would have to substitute a notion of transformation:
a regulated transformation of one language by another, of one text by another.
We will never have, and in fact have never had any ‘transfer’ of pure signified
from one language to another, or within one language – which would be left
virgin and intact by the signifying instrument or ‘vehicle’ ( as quoted by
The author sees transfer as a form of ‘claiming’ of the original for other purposes.
One of the most interesting concrete examples of how “narrative structures have the status of spatial syntaxes” Rogoff offers one doctor’s account of the spread of AIDS in rural Tennessee and his own tracking and mapping of the phenomenon . With this example she illustrates how narrative structures (reified as spatial syntaxes) regulate changes in space by whole new systems of codes, ordered ways of “proceedings and constraints” (80). Dr Verghese’s account of mapping and spatializing an epidemic through sexuality’s intersection with rural culture leads Rogoff to an assertion that “some aspect of the work of translation from human tragedy to codes of signification needs to be played out in order for the map to become an enacted heterotopia” (83).
(To be continued)
Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma. Geography’s Visual Culture. London and new York: Routledge,
Proposing Correspondence: Lee Ufan
Relatum, by Lee Ufan
Preceding his coming major retrospective at Guggenheim Museum in New York this summer, this article on Lee Ufan’s work and credo in the May’s Artforum seemed quite modest – rather compact for a figure of his calibre. In the light of our new course, titled “Dialogues and Interactions” this artist’s and theorist’s beliefs can be very valuable to look into. To me it also has a link to our discussions with my supervisor of the “dialogues with art history every artist is involved in his or her practice”. There are also a few facts in this artist personal life that resonated with my own experiences.
Lee Ufan, a Japanese born and raised in Korea and educated in Japan, was one of the founders of the Mono-ha, or Things school. The way the artist himself describes it in one of the interviews he gave this spring, Mono-ha is “simply a way to connect things that are seen and not seen and things that are on the outside and on the inside. This form of art may look simple, but it pushes us to think about unseen notions, such as concept, location and time behind a work of art.” (Lee Ufan’s interview with JoongAng Sunday at the Kukjie Gallery in Seoul, May 17, 2011). The Mono-ha movement was used to criticize Western modernism. Lee Ufan is called a “pivotal figure” in tansaekhwa, (monochromatic painting) one of the most prominent artistic developments in twentieth-century Korea, “which offered a fundamentally different approach to modernist abstraction” (Artforum,133). The cornerstone of that approach lies in emphasizing materiality “as the means by which to produce “encounters” that would connect objects and viewers, which in turn would show the “world as it is” (133).
What interested me most in the article offered by Artforum was the fact that Lee Ufan turned to painting in 1973, when artists in most parts of the world “had all but left it for dead” (133). Moreover, he was addressing the history of modernist abstraction, turning its best-known paradigms – seriality, gesture, the grid, and the monochrome – and “turning them inside out via alternative conceptions of the mark, the edge, and the surface” (133). He was bravely proposing “correspondence” rather than difference, as a means of “rethinking a world divided by conflicting ideologies and national boundaries”. I perceived this fact also as a manifestation of contact (or reserved criticism) as opposed to open opposition and hostility which marked similar “encounters” of that time. Quiet re-thinking instead of a full-blown war. Lee Ufan admits he was “discriminated” as an artist without a degree in fine arts and had to “fight in order to survive”, he was not considered a Japanese artist at some point because he grew up in Korea, the Korean people treated him as a Japanese person, and “the Europeans ignored [Lee Ufan] for being an Asian artist. However, his optimism prevailed.
For more information on this artist I turned to Joan Kee’s article “Points, Lines, Encounters: The World According to Lee Ufan”.
I learned that Lee Ufan among many attended Roland Barthes’ lectures approximately a year before his essay “The Death of the Author” was published, and became one of his followers. He criticized the notion of making – on the grounds of its “modernist lineage”. Identifying artistic intention as a necessary component of such “making”, the artists of Mono-ha proclaimed that “if the objective or intention of the work is not clear, a work cannot be said to have been made.” Then whether a work is made or not will depend on the clarity of creative response. This was the logic of one of lee Ufan’s fellow-artists Suga Kishio.
Lee Ufan’s series “Relatum”, 1968-, created a new model of interaction between the artist, the viewer, and the artwork: the one, based on parity.
1. Joan Kee, “Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity”, Artforum, May 2011.
2. joan Kee, “Points, Lines, Encounters” The World According to Lee Ufan”, Oxford Art Journal, 31.3.2008, 403-424.
3. JoongAng Sunday, interview with Lee Ufan at the Kukjie Gallery, Seoul, may 17, 2011.
Duomo, o5/2011, gouache, synthetic polymer, and oil on canvas, 96″x96″
Duomo is a work in progress, a week into making. The idea behind… no, I feel it will be more appropriate to say “the idea of this painting” came from the passionate article of W.J.T. Mitchell, the Distinguished Service Professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago, ”Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness”. Here I will have to stop myself again and say that I do not expect the viewer to see all I am about to discuss here in the painting itself. The project-in-the-making is an embodied experience for me, or an embodied thought. Mitchell ignited my imagination by saying that first, “all deserts are imaginary” (268) and second, that “all the three religions of the Book… invented ‘promised lands’ for ‘chosen people’” (275).
I started to think about the fragile yet resistant fabric of which certain beliefs were made. It could only be that pertaining and attractive if a [legend], a tradition, or an idea corresponded to or was made of some earthy material. That is how the idea of making a dome (an archaetectural element characteristic of all major religions) out of the ‘desired landscape’ material itself came to my mind. Circling the dome off and thus separating the earthy from the heavenly felt almost like blasphemy. Immediately came to mind the humbleness of the pair “adam – adama” in Hebrew – meaning ‘man – earth’. It stresses the deep connection of man to the earth. (I am not sure if this pair is that obviously joined in any other language). Joining the Earth and the sky – or the earthy and the spiritual was just the next logical step closer to Mitchell’s theory. His article also evoked the story of the Sienna Duomo (the Sienna Cathedral) whose building started in the 9th century but continued till the 14th till the buiders “re-discovered” the secret of building a dome which the ancient Romans certainly knew while building the Pantheon, and which was lost later. The irony of the fact that a later civilization was not as grand as the earlier one made me smile when I first heard the story. This year, it served as a proof to me that people do build their beliefs from earthy fabric.
Another “duomo” that has to be incorporated into this piece of writing is the Dome of the Rock. “In the symbolic landscape of Palestine, the most intense concentration of holiness for all the three religions of the Book, is, not surprisingly, the cityscape of Jerusalem, and especially the site of the Dome of the Rock” (271). The color scheme of my Duomo was inspired by the beautiful dome of the Szeged Synagogue in Hungary:
The dome of the Szeged Synagogue, Hungary.
I decided that to ‘prop’ my dome I will use the blue-print or a sketch of the internal architectural structure of that synagogue, but staying in tune with W.J.T. Mitchell (even if altering his theory a little) I will paint my ‘blue-print’ with the arterial-blood-red. That author insists that “deserts are texts written with stones and bones” (272), and that the landscapes of all ‘Holy Lands’ – be it Kosovo, Ireland, the Americas, or the South Africa – became at some point idols demanding human blood and sacrifice. In my mind I add that the blood that is spilled usually belongs both to the conquerors and the conquerred. However, such generalization and calling, among others, the few emaciated survivors of the Holocaust arriving at the shores of Palestine “conquerors” feels very, very wrong.
Deserts are imaginary because they are rarely deserted. They might be not as densely populated as the land from which the conquerors come, but they are definitely not bare. The ambiguity I spotted in the terminology used by Mitchell (taking into account that whatever euphemism of a country name he is using, he is building a strong case against the politics and the founding of the state of Israel in the land of Palestine in this particular article) was his touching upon the concept of ”the white man’s burden” in connection with the necessity of developing and populating the land of opportunity. Since when I wanted to ask have Jews been considered “white” men and not “Others”? The Soviets always referred to me [us] as “…and the other minorities”. The word ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish’ had been a taboo, a nusance or a curse in Russia - the word not to be mentioned - since the death of Stalin. They were also ‘marked off’ in America together with ‘colored’ and dogs for over a half of the 20th century.
History is complicated. I am not trying to politicise my art or force any negatively-charged reading upon the viewers, but these were the thoughts that passed trough my mind when I was reading W.J.T. Mitchell’s article and while I was starting to work on this painting.
Passport, 2011, performance (detail), by Robert Whitman
Robert Whitman’s pieces often “verge on alchemy” according to Liz Kotz and her latest article on Whitman’s work in Artforum. What sets him apart from many other artists who embraced technology for producing spectacles however, is that media technologies for Whitman has always been in service of something “at once more grounded and more dreamlike” (193). Whitman uses technological devices to layer different times and places, “exploring and experiential world that is always occuring both here and somewhere else” (193).
Since layering times and places (or referencing them) is the focus of my work, I decided to study Whitman’s findings more closely. Whitman is fascinated by events that can never be captured in their entireity – and only layers of multiple experiences produce the full picture. He goes beyond spatiality when he says he is thinking about making a piece that would happen in two places at the same time. In situ performance that is actually happens in more than one site to me references the idea of “landscape in transit” or “landscape as process rather than a place” in our predominantly unmappable world.
Whitman has been experimenting with the shifts in temporality and spatiality for several decades already. His new work, Passport, is the latest exploration of this spatial dispersion and recombination. In this piece Whitman included several performances at different locations and live feed from “the other side” of Hudson River. Liz Kotz says the piece will “generate the sense that the performance extends into the ebb and flow of events that occur around us all the time”. The artist himself says, “That reach of space is what I wanted”. In that particular piece Whitman wanted to direct people’s attention to the other side of the river while the burning boat is being paddled along. That in his opinion, would create “an expanded horizon of space that people are drawn into” (194).
Combining events or actions that couldn’t possibly occur on the same site and transmitting images of the occasion to where they are not happening is a serious efort in shifting spatiality and temporality. Everyone these days has been exposed to the figuratively perceived phenomenon of this to some extent: tsunami in Japan was imagined and re-lived in Red Deer; images and sounds of Egypt’s uprising filled the homes in Vancouver. Expanding the horizons of outreach for any events, including artistic performances is recent, urgent and overwhelming feature of this time. Nobody is “Other”; “cultural conditioning only goes that far… We all have much more in common than we might have thought” (Ken Lum, lecture at Center A, 09/2010, Vancouver).
I would like to summarize the most crucial points Robert Whitman is making with this work here, the way they correspond to my research in theory and in practice:
1. Exploring the shifts in temporality, spatiality, and subjectivity that imaging and communications techniques bring in daily life.
2. Layering different times and places, exploring an experiential world that is always occurring both here and somewhere else.
3. Exploring spatial dispersion and re-combination.
4. Incorporating language in the pieces, where the voice comes fron another place.
5. Expanding horizon, drawing people’s attention into it.
6. Exploring subjectivity: no two people have the same experience. (And only combined in their multiplicity they create a more adequate picture of the event).
1. Kotz, Liz. “1000 words: Robert Whitman Talks about Passport”, Artforum, April 2011
2. Ziady DeLue, Rachael, Elkins, James, eds. Landscape Theory. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Poetics of Space
(after Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space, “Intimate Immensity”)
The Poetics of Space was a book of revelations for me (caught in the midst of working out my first thesis proposal draft). It echoed other theories – those of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Deleuze and also shed some light at the process of creating ‘from imagination’. In my thesis proposal draft I distilled the study to certain abstract painting-friendly and encouraging ideas like: imagination’s “only resources are the great, lasting realities that correspond to fundamental, material images; those that are at the basis of all imagination. Nothing, in other words, that is either chimerical or illusory” (Gaston Bachelard, Poetics of Space, 207).
What I chose was of course, just a tip of the iceberg of a comprehensive phenomenological study employing a thorough research into the process of image- creating in poetry. The chapters of this book are titled e.g., “House and Universe”, “Nests”, “Intimate Immensity”, “The Dialectics of Inside and Outside”, and “The Phenomenology of Roundness”.
When a colleague mentioned this author to me suggesting I should read the comparisons Bachelard makes between desert and the sea – I was immediately hooked. Placing ‘one world upon another’ was definitely nothing new, so I could no longer claim the authorship of that idea. But I gave my vain hopes up with ease – such an engaging and informative read it turned out to be.
In the Introduction the author explains what the study will be about: “The poetic image is not subject to an inner thrust. It is not an echo of the past. On the contrary: through the brilliance of an image, the distant past resounds with echoes, and it is hard to know at what depth these echoes will reverberate and die away. Because of this novelty and its action, the poetic image has an entity and dynamism of its own; it is referable to a direct ontology. This ontology is what I plan to study” (xvi). Bachelard references Eugene Minkowski, a phenomenologist who coined this term of “reverberation” (retentir) to describe the process of image-creating. For Minkowski the essence of life is a “feeling of participation in a flowing onward, necessarily expressed in terms of time, and secondarily expressed in terms of space” (xvi). Bachelard says that in order to clarify the problem of the poetic image philosophically, we have to employ the phenomenology of imagination. Imagination in poetry and imagination in painting seemed to have much in common. Consider this statement, for example: “[the reader of the poem] is asked to consider an image not as an object and even less as the substitute for an object, but to seize its specific reality” (xix). It feels like replacing [the reader of the poem] with ‘the viewer of the painted image’ would make perfect sense in this case.
The chapter that attracted my attention the most was “Intimate Immensity”. This chapter investigates the origins of the idea of vastness and the concept of immensity. The problem under consideration in the work is “participation in images of immensity” (190). Bachelard believes that, “immensity is within ourselves. It is attached to a sort of expansion of being that life curbs and caution arrests…” (184). The philosopher studies Baudelaire’s use of the word ‘vast’ and ‘vastness’ and by doing so explores the concept of “immensity”. He also examines the images of a vast desert and the deep sea created by Phillipe Diole and collides the images of “absolute depth” and “immensity” of the desert after the writer. He comes to the conclusion that “all the universe that bears the mark of the desert is annexed to inner space”. Moreover, he suggests that the outer immensity can be translated into “inner intensity”, and “intensity of being”.
One of the “charms” of the phenomenology of the poetic imagination, Bachelard concludes, is “to be able to experience a fresh nuance in the presence of a spectacle that calls for uniformity, and can be summarized in a single idea” (204). He also elaborates on the sources of imagination when he claims that “fundamental, material images… are at the basis of all imagination…Here both time and space are under the domination of the image. Elsewhere and formerly are stronger than hic at nunc. The being-here is maintained by a being from elsewhere” (208). Bachelard states that immensity is magnified through contemplation. And, since the “contemplative attitude is such a great human value” and “poems are human realities” it is not enough to resort to “impressions” in order to explain them. They must be lived in their poetic immensity (210). To me this chapter of The Poetics of Space is almost intertwined with the concept of Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of ‘embodied being’ “caught in the fabric of the world” and the space of modern painting as space “where we too are located, space which is close to us and with which we are organically connected” (“Exploring the World of Perception: Space”, 42).
Images in painting for me are meant to be ‘lived in’ like the poetic images explored by Gaston Bachelard. They are born in the imagination but spring from the lasting real images of the real world and their palimpsestic traces left in the human mind.
Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space.1958. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press,
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. 1964. “Eye and Mind”. The Primacy of Perception. Trans. Carleton
Dallery. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1993. Print
—. The World of Perception. 2004. trans. Oliver Davis. New York:
Routledge Classics, 2008. Print.
On what grounds do I speak of landscape if the work is not representational? Answering this question might be challenging. I will try to do that using two sources: “Introduction to Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape” by Denis E. Cosgrove and “The Art Seminar” conversation recorded in 2006 at the Burren Cllege of Art, Ballyvaughan, Ireland.
The first work is polemics and response to criticism of the first publication of Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. While the title immediately positions the book theoretically – “social formation” is a Marxist formulation, this formulation is ”discussed in detail and promoted as a conceptual escape from the tendency within Marxism to subordinate both material and imaginative cultural expressions to the imperatives of political economy” (22). Cosgrove stresses that in all fields of learning the collapse of confidence in the grand theories or “master narratives” has forced us to recognize that no single, coherent set of theories, concepts and methods can provide a certain and progressive path towards truth.
The author offers a brief glance at the history of the concept of landscape; he attributes the origins of landscape idea to the experience of bourgeois citizens in the Italian city states in relation to land, and to the humanist culture generated out of their experience, paying specific attention to the spatialities connected to new technologies of vision and representation. He also mentions Timothy Mitchell elaborating on Martin Heidegger’s insight that modern societies characteristically represent the world to themselves as a picture and his relating this fact to the West’s “picturing” of other societies and their landscapes. “European male”, the central figure of the progressive narrative of human achievement, was conceived as a universal subject and exercised rational self-consciousness within a ”largely disembodied mind”. The past ”viewers of landscape” were uniformly male, and appear and ”communicate to us as eyes, largely disconnected from any other corporeal or sensual aspects of their being and existence” (24). Changes in the working landscape and in landscape painting … were consistently connected into cultural and economic circuits of the European colonial projects, Cosgrove explains. They may often be read as a cipher for the complex interchanges it entailed. Literary and philosophical debates on landscape mediated individual appreciation. Landscape had “simultaneous appeal” as subjective experience and pleasure and its role in as social expression of authority and ownership. Later on the author mentions “some of the most enduring of Europe’s landscape images … exploring the spatialities and the environmental relations of modern life” (29).
In the second part of “Introduction” Cosgrove points out that in the book he claimed that from today’s perspective landscape ”resembles a flickering text displayed on a screen whose meaning can be cerated, extended, altered, elaborated and finally obliterated by the merest touch of the button”(32). He says that such virtual landscapes represent the furtherst extension so far of the idea of landscape as a distanced way of seeing: moving beyond even symbolic landscape, in some representations to landscape simulacra. Cosgrove stresses that he is treating “symbolic” iconically, through a Warburgian approach that emphasizes the contextual interpretation of symbolic symbols. “This seems particularly suitable to the idea of landscape as a way of seeing…” (33). Another strong point the author makes further is the connection between landscape and literary hermeneutics: “Various tropes used in rhetoric and literary hermeneutics, such as metaphor, metonym, and simile, are significant not only in understanding literary representations of landscape but in their material construction and their communication of social meaning” (33). Yet another aspect of treating landscape symbolically brought up in this article is treating landscape as a theater. The author insists that “such conceptual elaborations of the relation between landscape and symbolic discourse … indicate the theoretical fertility…of the idea of symbolic landscape”(35). He quotes Kenneth Olwig’s critique of his book which emphasizes the continued significance of landscape as a context for socio-political identity and community action. In the final pages of his “Introduction”, Cosgrove dwells on the social and historical specificities of landscape, touches upon the subject of mythic dimensions of it and explores the concern of rootedness, ideas of home and belonging, of locality and identity, and of the social and environmental dangers of change and modernization.
The idea of ”Art Seminar” – a symposium - came as a realization of the need to have a “cross-section”of opinions, a “reasonable sample, of the degree of coherence of talk about landscape” (88) and its rendering in contemporary society and art. James Elkins and Rachael Ziady DeLue invited a diverse range of scholars and practitioners to take part in the discussion. I will try to summarize the two discources together in their vision of the role of landscape in life and art and their interconnectedness, the way they appeal to me and to my interpretation of a landscape as I see it in my (still developing and transitional!) practice:
Brief Outline of Various Conceptualizations of Landscape
1. Landscape as “embedded ideology”, being “fundamentally engaged with ideology”.
2. “Body inside landscape” – landscape resists the illusion of an observing subject (69). Like the body, landscape is something we all feel ourselves to be inside (88). + the idea of “scape”, not “scope” – as in German landschaft meaning “partnership”, “collaboration”.
3. Presence of empathy in landscape: the projection of one’s own consciousness into another being, thing, or place.
4. Body and mind: sensuality and desire cannot be ignored in response to landscapes… They are powerful motivation aspects of imagination.
5. “Rootedness” (38) (and rootlessness) – ideas of home and belonging, of locality and identity, and of the social and environmental dangers of change and modernization.
6. Myths, aesthetics: the belief deposited deep in myth and memory – that the good, the true and the beautiful, as well as threatening, the awesome and the disgusting, are inscribed in the contours of the land. (37, 90)
7. Symbolic landscape and treating landscape as theater; conceptual elaboration of the relation between landscape and symbolic discourse. (34)
8. Landscape as a way of seeing.
9. Significance of landscape as a context for socio-political identity. (35)
10. Significance of literary hermeneutics for landscape and its understanding, as well as its material construction.
11. Significance of new experiences (speed, technology, and aerial view) in an explicit dialogue with the picturesque tradition. (27, 30)
12. Landscape and identity.
13. Radical re-conceptualization of the old landscape tradition. (124) As a cure to Romanticism here come:
- indexical abstraction – indexicality and the traces of landscapes,
– installation (presentation)
– land art (direct intervention in the site)
14. Landscape in the “predominantly unmappable world” (borderless flow or globalization). (131)
15. Landscape as “mediated experience” – landscape as “already known”. (137)
16. Landscape as “animated force” – cultural or national landscape. (147)
Ziady DeLue, Rachael, Elkins, James, eds. 2008. Landscape Theory. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Painting and Gender Specificity.
What is the relationship between painting practices and feminists politics? How is the medium specificity tied to gender-specificity?
I believe I found answers in Katy Deepwell’s article “Claims for a Feminist Politics in Painting”. As a painter, I am consciously involved in a continuous dialogue with historical styles and practices within the discipline – accepting certain aspects, rejecting or questioning others.
Deepwell approaches this subject from the following angle: “Feminism has had a vested interest in challenging modernism, especially for its masculinist biases but also for its separation of art from politics. It is here that painting itself is always doubly-identified as both a conservative and a male-dominated practice. First in the sense of reproducing the bias in which men paint and women appear as objects within the frame and second as a studio-based practice which breeds forms of ivory-tower isolationism and produces the primary commodity in the art market” (144). The author quotes John Roberts saying that painting practice is frequently either fetishized as a release from the cognitive and political or dematerialized as being outside the possibilities for any form of cultural intervention. (Roberts, 17-19).
Thus painting as a model of art practice, Deepwell writes, embraces many different types of painting styles and approaches, both figurative and abstract, laid out as a series of inheritances and breaks from previous forms.
Alternatively, however, painting has been repositioned by the new art history as a “complex signifying system generated by the relationships between the social space of art production; the symbolic space of the art object and its statement and, finally, as a space representation in which social and sexual hierarchies are figured” (Griselda Pollock, 1992).
Picking up the previous thread of the dialogue (or argument) with modernism, I could associate with Carolee Schneemann’s statement (reported by Kristine Stiles in “The Painter as an Instrument of Real Time”, 2001) in that I am not interested in “the mark as redolent of an expressive subject. Instead the works are an exploration of the techniques of vision manifest in the gap between outer representation and inner experiences/consciousness.” Another subject worth to mention in this report is Stiles’s locating of Schneeman’s strategy as an “aesthetic of the transitive eye” moving between a “bodily eye” (which dominates over actual things) and a “body-as-eye” (which thinks its domination in the mind)… “This relationship between eye-body and consciousness she positions as “one of the essential functions of painting” (Schneeman 2001: 4-5), (Deepwell, 146).
The author’s conclusion for the first chapter of her article resonates well with my practice and research, focusing on “Being” and contemporary art:
“If painting can be defined or identified as a mark-making process establishing human existence in feminist works, it has also been used performatively as process to mark different times and establish a different relationship between ‘being’ and contemporary art” (sic.) (148).
Further in the article Deepwell investigates the position of a woman-painter at the contemporary art scene: “Does the problem with any re-articulation of painting for feminists lie in its association with a tradition in which women artists were devalued, marginalized, silenced or is it the problematic identification with the development of painting as a category[?]” (153). She poses a question which each female painter has to deal with at some point: “How to produce an effective set of feminist possibilities in painting without re-instating the purity of painting or re-investing again in its overblown status?” (154). However, women painters continue to be present in every emerging tendency: in every revival and crisis of representation and abstraction during the last twenty-five years you can find a “plethora of women painting” (155).
(to be continued…)
Deepwell, Katy. “Claims for a Feminist Politics in Painting”, Contemporary Painting in Context, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010. Print.
Emergence of ‘Impolite’ Landscape
That ‘new angle’ of looking at things that artists possess and consciously cultivate, or the phenomenon of ‘rendering visible’ as opposed to traditionally ‘rendering the visible’ gets into the spotlight in “The World of Perception”, 7 lectures for the radio by Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
In the first lecture “The World of Perception and the World of Science” the philosopher claims that “in order to gain access to this world” we have to “…lay this world bare and … rediscover it” (32). He states that a world of perception is still to a great extent an unknown territory, as long as we remain in the practical or utilitarian attitude.
The real world, Merleau-Ponty reminds us is not this world of light and colour, not “the fleshy spectacle which passes before [our] eyes. It consists, rather of the waves and particles which science tells us lie behind these sensory illusions” (33).
He suggests that a meeting point between the two, the relationship between perception and scientific knowledge is one of appearance to reality. “It befits our human dignity to entrust ourselves to the intellect, which alone can reveal to us the reality of the world” (34). Merleau-Ponty praises art and philosophy for “rehabilitating” perception and the world as we perceive it.
He poses the question whether science does, or ever could, present us with a picture of the world which is complete, self-sufficient and somehow closed in upon itself, such that there could no longer be any meaningful questions outside this picture. “The scientist of today… no longer cherishes the illusion that he is penetrating to the heart of things… The physics of relativity confirms that absolute and final objectivity is a mere dream… It also rejects the notion of an absolute observer” (35).
In his second lecture, “Exploring the World of Perception: Space.” Merleau-Ponty argues that if “modern thought (and art) is difficult and runs counter to common sense, that is because it is concerned with truth; experience no longer allows it to settle for the clear and straightforward notions which common sense cherishes because they bring peace of mind” (37).
The world of perception the philosopher explains, and our knowledge of it have changed: space is not a uniform medium in which things are arranged in three dimensions and in which they remain the same regardless of the position they occupy: “…space is composed of a variety of different regions and dimensions, which can no longer be thought of as interchangeable and which effect certain changes in the bodies which move around with them… We can no longer draw an absolute distinction between space and the things which occupy it, nor indeed between the pure idea of space and the concrete spectacle it presents to our senses” (39).
Merleau-Ponty illustrates his point with the example of painting: “According to the classical doctrine painting is based on perspective. This means that when a painter is confronted by, for example, a landscape, he chooses to depict on his canvas an entirely conventional representation of what he sees”(40). He elaborates that on the canvas a painter arranges things such that what he represents is nothing more than a compromise between various different visual impressions: he strives to find a “common denominator” to all these perceptions by rendering each object not with the size, colours and aspects it presents when the painter fixes it with his gaze but rather, with the conventional size and aspect that it would present in a gaze directed at a particular vanishing point in relation to which the landscape is then arranged along lines running from the painter to the horizon.
“Landscapes painted in this way have a peaceful look, an air of respectful decency,… They remain at a distance and do not involve the viewer. They are a polite company: the gaze passes without hindrance over a landscape which offers no resistance to the supremely easy movement”(40) (Emphasis – mine)
But this is not how the world appears to us when we encounter it, asserts Merleau-Ponty. “When our gaze travels over what lies before us, at every moment we are forced to adopt a certain point of view and these successive snapshots of any given area of the landscape cannot be superimposed one upon the other. It is only by interrupting the normal process of seeing that the painter succeeds in mastering this series of visual impressions and extracting a single, unchanging, landscape from them… By subjecting all such details to this analytical vision, he fashions on the canvas a representation of the landscape which does not correspond to any of the visual impressions. This controls the movement of their unfolding yet also kills their trembling life” (41) (emphasis – mine).
Merleau-Ponty concludes that if many painters have been reluctant to settle for the analytical overview and have tried instead to recapture the feel of perceptual experience, they have been striving to render the experience of perception, and capturing a “birth of a landscape”, a “world in which being is not given but rather emerges over time” (41). Thus space is no longer a medium of simultaneous objects capable of being apprehended by an absolute observer who is equally close to them all, a medium without a point of view and without a spatial position - in sum, the medium of pure intellect.
“… the notion of a single unified space entirely open to a disembodied intellect has been replaced by the idea of space which consists of different regions and has certain privileged directions; these are closely related to our distinctive bodily features and our situation as beings thrown into the world…” (43).
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception,1948. New York: Routledge
Classics, 2008. Print.
Subversion and Subsidy & WET
Subversion and Subsidy, a book on contemporary art and aesthetics by Rainer Rochlitz, attracted my attention first as a relatively new publication (2008) on the subject. (O.K., its cover was bright pink and the dedication line read: “To G., the perplexed artist“) It continued to capture my interest when the contents unfolded: Part One of the book, titled “Situation” offered an article “Breaks in the Modernist Logic” where I found an argument on the “regressive nature” of the ‘return to painting’ in the late 1990s.
Statements that provided the real hook for me as a reader were, however, positive thoughts on the role, sovereignty and internal autonomy of the contemporary art and the artist e.g.: “Seeking to express what is unique and original in his own vision, the artist finds himself invited to follow, or at least to take a note of, a collective logic of art that is heterogeneous with respect to his own project and which can sometimes impose an empty radicalization” (Rochlitz, p.33) Another one was: “One can say, provisionally, that a work that seeks, ‘with eyes closed’, to attain to beauty by ignoring both the technical problems of its predecessors and the bitter experience of the age, condemns itself to impotence.” (p.20)
As a painter I cannot ignore the heritage of the past decades’ discourse and arguments on the vitality or validity of painting as a genre. I could say, after another art theorist and painter, Mira Schor, that “My charge is to continue to evaluate my work in relation to several theoretical discourses and critiques of painting while engaging with the serious pleasure I get from the visual, not with the intent of making art that would look pretty or beautiful in fact, one characteristic of much work by [women] painters that I am interested in is that they depict the underside of ideals of beauty but without contempt for paint itself… nor with the delusion that I can invent a new language of painting. I want to engage with the language of painting, with the metaphorically expressive possibilities of the materiality of painting, trusting in the complexity of visual language in painting, in order to reinvest painting with the energy of a different politics, a politics of difference…” (Mira Schor, Wet, p.169)
These two books intertwined in addressing different issues in contemporary art and painting for me during the last week; often I would stop reading one and turn to the other where a similar topic was under discussion.
I turned to Mira Schor and her Wet (1997) and A Decade of Negative Thinking (2009) for the reasons described by Rochlitz, precisely seeking answers in the ‘collective logic’ of my predecessors and contemporaries. Feminism had not particularly interested me till I found a Griselda Pollock’ quote “Something different must occur if a painter who paints with such a body is, in fact, a woman artist, painting from “the creative woman’s body” (Mira Schor, A Decade of Negative Thinking, p.95) This quote seemed to allude to Merleau-Ponty’s saying that “a painter takes his body with him”, paints with his body.
While the very title Wet (and an unequivocal image on the cover) rang as a bit radical to me, the art-historical grounds for Schor’s argument looked solid (pun unintended). The fluidity of paint and “the slime of painting” had been associated with woman’s body and feminine craft since Marcel Duchamp’s calls for “a completely dry drawing, a dry conception of art”(Wet,p.149). Schor shows how fluidity was detested even on more metaphorical levels: in her account of Benjamin Buchloh’s interview with Gerhard Richter when asked about the “irony” allegedly embedded in his paintings, Richter said: “They [paintings] have a normal seriousness. I can’t put a name on it. I’ve always seen it as something musical. There’s a lot in the construction, in the structure that reminds me of music.” Buchloh’s answer to that was: “That’s one of the oldest clichés around. People always have resorted to music in order to save the foundations of abstract painting”. (p.148) Schor argues that against the “unregimented flow” of paint (or music) some critics posit the mechanistic one, of architecture, or of language. Buchloh questions the importance of paintings which are “hard to describe”. “If words fail, then the undescribable must be “investigated anew”, or eliminated. Not surprisingly Buchloh favours the insertion of words into pictures especially through collage…Fear of flow also condemns Richter’s analogy of painting to music, which, though invisible, is the quintessential flowing element through the ear, which offers no protection between interior and exterior” (p.150)
Schor calls certain critics, for whom painting is “dysfunctional” and “atavistic” – “aesthetic terrorists”- stating that they mock “the metaphysics of the human touch” on which defences of painting depend.
As I already heard from my instructors at the University last summer, the work of Gerhard Richter was exempt from general critique of painting. One of the profs mentioned that “embedded irony” in the very style of his paintings. Rochlitz offers an explanation of the phenomenon: “The critique of ideological regression [of a ‘return to painting’] is here based on an interpretation of the history of art as an irreversible linear process (which, Rochlitz claims, is contrary to the postmodernist reading of history), such that a historical inscription of a work of art is decisive for the aesthetic quality to be attributed to it. In the same way, Benjamin Buchloh speaks of a return to figuration ‘contrary to any aesthetic logic’ and Terry de Duve of a ‘return to painting which disavows the precedent of the readymade’. Implicitly, the latter conceives of another (cursive original) return to painting that does not: one that deliberately sets out to combat the photographic reproduction whose ascendancy over the visual image is one of the major features of our age. This is why Gerhard Richter and Robert Ryman are accorded canonical status by both Buchloh and de Duve.” (emphasis mine) (Rochlitz, p.18)
I admit that participating in this rhetoric might feel as “slaying dead dragons” for today’s artist, but Mira Schor confesses that “the issue [of continued debates over the viability of painting] of sometimes contradictory critiques of painting I feel I must negotiate daily as a painter. I am perhaps seditious towards painting and other painters because I at least give these critiques credence, and seditious toward the critique because I still paint despite of them.” (Mira Schor, p.165)
In A Decade of Negative Thinking Schor touches upon the role of abstract painting in the contemporary art scene. She quoted Lucy Lippard who supported a number of women painters working abstractly in the post-minimalist movement such as Eva Hasse and Hannah Wilke. Lippard gradually moved toward other political concerns and lost interest in writing about abstract art: “As I became more involved in issue-oriented feminist art… I wrote less about abstract art … It’s just harder to see the subversion and the confrontations in an abstract work…” (Schor, p.95)
Art ‘based on politics’ or involving language (or text as in a Buchloh’s collages) is definitely ‘easier to see’ or to interpret. However, as Rochlitz argues: “the ‘old ideology of the autonomy of art’ – which does not imply an asocial reclusion but rather a proper logic of art’s own, including when it steps out onto theoretical and political terrain – is making a comeback, fair and square. The work of art is distinguished from the aesthetic judgement by the irreducibility of its medium, of its mode of symbolization. Even the concept in the conceptual art is not purely discursive, (emphasis mine), as is witnessed by the spatial staging of the discourse.” (Rochlitz, p.34)
The painter and the theorist, Mira Schor states that “To this day… the question of whether the artist of contemporary life can be an abstract artist remains in play. Can contemporary life endure the metaphoric realm of abstraction or is it too literalist and information- and representation-based?”
1. Schor, Mira. A Decade of Negative Thinking, Essays on Art, Politics, and Daily Life. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2009.
2. Schor Mira. Wet. On Painting, Feminism, and Art Culture. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1997.
3. Rochlitz, Rainer. Subversion and Subsidy. Contemporary Art and Aesthetics. London, New York, Culcutta: Seagull Books, 2008.
SPACE AS MEDIUM
#1 Meet: Katharina Grosse
The German artist Katharina Grosse is an internationally renowned representative of the first kind of practice. Two main threads run through her art practice: one is her large paintings and the other is her installations (room and outside urban spaces). The room installations mix painterly and architectural elements. She spray-paints the exhibition space itself, including the floor, the ceiling, walls and furniture at enormous scale. This way she achieves not only transforming of the gallery space into a three-dimensional painting, but also “forcing” a drifting point of view on the spectator.
“The drifting point of view, the transformation of the support meaning through painting (italics added), the arbitrariness of the context, size and shifts within the work’s structure and the temporal and performative quality of it…” (“The Poise of the Head und Die Anderen Folgen”, Katharina Grosse, 2010) are the most obvious outcomes of the artist’s work and effects it produces.
Grosse’s large-scale paintings surround and envelop the viewer; they make viewers feel as if they stand inside of them.
The three images that I have chosen for this presentation are: two room installations: Double Floor, 2004, one large painting Untitled, 2008, and her latest exhibition “Shadowbox” – in a link to the video.
Method: Painting large supports or spaces with bright colors spray-paint at a large scale forcing transformation of the usual perception of the room or support. Installations often include soil, furniture and stretched and spray-painted canvases on the walls and on the floor, spray-painted together with the whole space and after sometimes turned or shifted in space to achieve more ‘disorientation’ or versatility.
Methodology: Turning spaces into seamless three-dimensional paintings; creating new environments defying the traditional perception of space. Welcoming diverse individual readings of the created environments via forcing the spectators move through painting and adopting a unique “drifting point of view”.
In Shadowbox exhibition Katharina Grosse takes the concept to the next level, inviting her spectators literally move through and around paintings which are reminiscent of traditional painting support – thus commenting on the art history and tradition and the change of vantage point of viewing art through history.
Her inclusions of furniture (beds or book shelves as in Double Floor) and everyday objects are allowing her audience to make a link to domestic space – stressing the inhabitability of her painted creations. Soil inclusions relate to the earth, the cradle, the source, as well as the primary source of painting – the source of pigments, blending art and nature in her installation.
UNEMBARRASSED PRESENCE OF NATURE
#2 Meet: Bob Nugent
“Abstract romantic” as Donald Kuspit christened him in his article about the artist’s works on paper, Bob Nugent is one of the leading Californian artists. Kuspit asks what artists can do in the modern situation of uncontrolled use and abuse of nature – “the massive exploitation of nature, and the indifference that attends its ruin?” He answers that Bob Nugent’s works on paper offer an “elegant solution: preserve nature in aesthetic fragments – preserve not the appearance of nature … but the sensations nature arouses, aesthetically distilled into elated energy.” Art historically speaking, Nugent’s work offers a kind of epitomizing summary of the history of gestural abstraction. They are combinations of what Kandinsky called “impression and improvisations” – “lively responses to nature’s aliveness and pure abstractions responsive to the qualities of the medium” (D.K.) Bob Nugent made several trips to the Amazon River during which he studied the environment and made series of drawings and paintings inspired by nature. He also travelled to Mexico which resulted in several “desert” series.
Fauna E Flora Do, 2004
Method: Combining painting and drawing techniques on paper, canvas (linen), or board. Incorporating natural watermarks on paper and canvas into the image which often includes ink and charcoal drawings. Preserving the illusionistic space – his work is never perceived as ‘flat’ – which ties it with representational or surrealistic way of painting rather than with pure abstraction.
Methodology: Underlying message of reality is always present in Nugent’s art. Through expressive means he arrives at a strong statement on the environmental issues; fragility of the surroundings and art-historically traditional memento mori which is different from romanticism’s view of nature. Self-reflexive nature of Nugent’s active stand environmentalist’s creative work is acutely postmodernist; the general mood of his paintings is wistful and often dramatic. The images are almost recognizable but leave room for individual interpretation which makes them interactive. (e.g. Jerusalem or a place in West Van)
PAST HAJJ – FUTURE EXHIBITION
#3 Meet: Allen Ball
A Canadian visual artist, trained as a painter in London, went on a hajj to Egypt for a voluntary service in the Canadian Peacekeeping Forces in the Middle East. He was placed at the North camp in the Sinai Peninsula. While on duty Allen made several photographs. Upon his return he decided to use two images for an unusual exhibit:
Image #1: A view of a barrack wall with a door with several notes on it, pinned to the surface in the shape of a cross. A board on the wall of the barrack with colourful stripes illustrating the “levels of danger” e.g. “elevated”, “severe”, etc. Updated every day so that the personnel knows in what kind of situation they are. Bicycle parking stalls are on the left and a smoking spot is on the right from the door.
Image #2: An open area in the Sinai desert observed from the camp tower. In the lower left corner there is a parked Egyptian troop transport vehicle; in the upper right – an Egyptian officer behind a rock, watching something in the desert through his binoculars. (As the artist explains, the officer was watching a group of Bedouins moving in the desert.)
Method: The images taken in Sinai are blown up in size to fit the glass exterior of a gallery (approx. 14’x20’) on a transparent film and glued to the outside walls with the front door in the center of it. In image #1 the bicycle parking stand is right by the actual bicycle stand outside the gallery, the door of the gallery has the image of “danger indication” stripes. Image #2 – the door to the gallery opens “into” the Egyptian troop transporter vehicle. The image of the Egyptian officer is propped by the slope of the glass roof of the gallery.
Methodology: Importing and trans-placing images of global politics and making them into life-size reality in the peaceful environment of North American urban spaces makes the work almost temporally simultaneous and spatially synchronous with the actual events thousands of miles away. The artist makes a strong comment on global politics and its effects that are never too far away. The door allows the viewers actually move through the image – either into the signs of danger, or into the troop transport vehicle. Blowing up the images in size – not only to match the size of the exterior but also to bring the public’s attention to the acute importance of the issue.
#4 Meet: Matias Duville
An Argentine artist, trained in advertising and art at Superior School of Visual Arts. In 2008 Matias had a dream about Alaska. He had never traveled to Alaska, and had never really seen images or photographs taken there. Alaskan terrain and conditions were not even vaguely familiar to him. During the next year the artist virtually locked himself in the studio producing hundreds of drawings of his ‘projected’ images of Alaska – avoiding obtaining the real images or information about the distant state. As Modern Painters magazine writes about him ( Brett Littman’s) , “throughout his career the artist has used imaginary geographies and juxtapositions of irreconcilable elements – a swimming pool in the ocean, an electric-organ keyboard at the top of the waterfall – as levers to pry open reality. His understanding of place and time is internal, personal, and variable – closer to a hypnotic state than to full-blown consciousness.
Method: Drawing images from imagination using drawing media (pastel, chalk and charcoal) on paper and plywood. Natural texture of plywood and some paper types pre-determines the character of the mark. The prevailing colors are black and white; with separate bursts of color. The artist is juxtaposing elements known with elements unseen and never experienced. The outlines of objects snap in and out of focus, as if seen through a fog or mist. At the second stage of the project Duville travels to Alaska and makes observation drawings (only seen through the window of his RV); at the third – back in Buenos Aires – he produces ‘mixed’ drawings of real Alaska and his fantasies about it.
Methodology: Matias Duville’s drawings of constructed landscapes of his “Future Memories: Mental Trip” (the title of the series) project phenomenon and functions of memory onto the unknown – the fog effects; selective nature of memory. Known for centuries human search for the unknown land – like sea voyages to India where the images the explorers had were mostly fictional, far from reality – those were images of projected hope. Constructing the unknown world – then de-constructing it with the interference of reality, and constructing multilayered worlds at the third stage – contains a comment on subjectivity and individual perception of multi-layered reality of contemporary world and art.
Summary: The work of these four artists is relevant to my thesis research project in various ways. Katharina Grosse’s paintings and installations relate to the scale and constructed environments of my paintscapes. The “drifting” vantage point is perceived by me in both its literal and metaphorical way: drifting in time and space as well as moving through a painting which I am considering incorporating in my work. Her use of brilliant colour to convey a message on an emotional level is something I have been studying as well.
Bob Nugent’s “unlikely realism” and “romantic abstraction” rooted in nature and natural environment is, as I feel it, exactly the field I am feeling my path through. Combining impressions with improvisations is my modus operandi in painting. His subtle reminder of loss or possibility of it is present in my painted geographies. I also admire his fantastic touch in preserving the watermark in his work. “Distilling art into energy” – is something I have been trying through the use of dramatic colors.
Allen Ball’s transposition of desert spaces heated by Middle-Eastern reality onto a Vancouver gallery is geographically impossibly close to my own transcontinental search; his moving through image is something I am researching right now.
Matias Duville’s projected hope in “Future Memories” symbolizes my own search into the unknown territory and resonates with my passion of creating coded environments and unseen landscapes.
“The Poise of the Head und die andren folgen”, Contemporary Painting in Context, Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen 2010
“I Wish I Had a Big Studio in the Center of the City”, Lars Müller Publishers, 2009
“Katharina Grosse. The Flower Show. Skrow No Repap”, Frac Auvergne, 2007-2008
Bob Nugent, the Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, California, 2007
Modern Painters Magazine, summer 2010/artinfo.com
CODED LANDSCAPES IN MEDIATED VISUALITY
I would like to start this review of my recent findings en route to my thesis with the
distilled interpretation of my essay “Wishful Landscapes” (the initial interpretation
was by Ric Bearisto):
Building upon traditions, the practices and the critical efforts of the past,
contemporary abstract painters are trying to convey the emerging meaning of their
own work in the age of the dominance of conceptually informed art practices. The
awareness of the crucial importance of maintaining an analogous connection to the
present issues as well as being well-informed of the changing criteria of evaluation
and the purposes of judgement makes their art relevant.
Abstract painting can be tied, through the artists’s experiences to the lived
experience via the ‘landscapes of the mind’ – the systems we inhabit, the systems
our lives depend on. This environment includes politics and economics, the
cultural as an extension of the natural, our bodies as natural systems that pattern
our thought, and our thoughts as structured around metaphors drawn from nature.
The second part of this ‘distillation’ is more of a projection on the scope of my
future research for the thesis than a reflection of the ideas in the essay; more of a
proposal than a summary of the already known. My practice-led research and the
research embedded in my paintings of constructed landscapes required extensive
exploration of the ideas that are relatively new (modernism was not interested in
landscape – it was just a scene for ‘improvement’ which was forcefully imposed on
nature): “Landscape was not significant in modern art, but it has become
increasingly significant in recent strains of art that are not part of
modernism” (Rebecca Solnit, 2003, “Elements of New Landscape”).
After reading “Pittura/Immedia” by Peter Weibel, I have decided to replace the
term of “constructed landscape” with “coded landscape” based upon realization
that my work actually transmits the message (or conveys the message) in all its
urgency and immediacy through the use of a certain code (or codes) that is
somehow recognizable and decipherable for the viewers. I believe that my
paintings are in (or are striving to arrive at) some polyphonic relations to coded
reality and psychological responses.
SPACE AND TIME:
The terms “temporal simultaneity” and “spacial synchronicity” – in the meaning of
thinking about many places at the same time – stroke me as extremely relevant to
my work; (these terms were used in the discussion after David Elliot speech at the
Center A symposium at SFU this September): the almost forensic evidence of
bodily presence in my large landscape pieces speaks of immediate and recent,
while the presented subject is often read as places of past experience (or
polyphonic references – spacial and psychological experiences that have already
taken place). The interwoven space and time phenomenon has its roots in art
history, refers to the belief present in many indigenous cultures of the world that
space and time is a unity, and is translated into contemporary language of the new
landscape art: “Landscape’s most crucial condition is considered to be space, but
its deepest theme is time” (R.S. 48)
The experiment I conducted within the frame of Seminar-in-Research this summer
when several of my classmates described their perception of my work as
landscapes similar to ones they experienced confirmed my ideas of codes in the
visual, which, in my case always refer to both space and time. Space could be also
read as a link to global, global art and reflecting on it the way it was touched upon
by Ken Lum at the Centre A symposium: “Cultural conditioning only goes so far…
Different peoples have more in common than it might seem…” This is relevant to
the theme of my research that relates to the phenomenon of immigration and
migration in contemporary world.
When the world around us ceases to be perceived as idyll, as a backdrop or the
scenery out there and becomes instead the systems and substances which support
us as a part of those systems, we move to an ecological worldview. “The
concentrating on the substance rather than form as the bearer of meaning, (italics
added) artists assert the decisive significance of substance, rather than regarding it
as neutral matter that takes on meaning as it is given form.” (52) This way
substance suggests that meaning is inherent in the world, and does not have to be
inscribed upon it. “Here is not the landscape that is absent but the ability to read
its language, a lack artists have addressed in works attempting to speak in terms of
substances and systems.” (53)
“In the new metaphorical landscape… observation – witness – becomes a form of
involvement rather than detachment. All positions are political; there is no outside
objective position from which to observe – the viewer… is part of the
Places Have Meanings
Wind Series, #4. 60″x42″, gouache transfer and collage on paper, 12/2010
“Land is a natural phenomenon… ‘Landscape’ is a cultural construct.” (Liz Wells)
“Places exist out there, external and independent of our thinking of them,
but the concepts we use to organize and interpret places are inventions and interventions of human thought.” (Jean Robertson)
In this post I am continuing to explore the factors that affect identity and phenomena that constitute it. Today’s subject will concern place as one of the factors with a major impact on the formation and survival of identity. The book Themes of Contemporary Art by Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel adresses this subject in Chapter Five titled Place.
“During the heyday of European Modernism in the first half of the twentieth century, the expatriate artist … (e.g. Pablo Picasso or Marcel Duchamp) was a romantic even a heroic, figure who voluntarily chose to leave behind his place of origin for the adventure of living and working in a foreign land. The displaced artists of today are more ambiguous figures… many see themselves as exiles, refugees, or nomads.” (p.176)
What is a place beyond a point on the map? Time and space coalesce in a place. Places contain metaphoric or symbolic meanings that go deeper than the surface appearance of a particular landscape or architectural style. The place or places where one has lived, with their physical, historical and cultural attributes, condition what one knows and how one sees. An artist’s geographic history affects the appearance and meaning of their art.I have been well aware that my idea of ‘distributed identity’ is contradicting the post-Enlightenement notion that something can not be in two places at once till I read this chapter in Themes of Contemporary Art. Several points made by the authors of this book prove that my guesses about the changes an artist identity undergoes after being uprooted or displaced were quite close to the thoughts of my contemporaries who experienced such transformations.
In this chapter I read that “many contemporary artists are responding to specific scenes in front of them or are trying to recapture the appearance or feeling of places they remember. More abstractly, some artists are grappling with ideas of place in a conceptual way… Some theorists of culture have adopted the term space to refer to the social and psychological attributes of a place.”(p.154)
Contemporary art about place is made using a wide array of materials and styles for an equally diverse range of artistic goals. Some artists (like Peter Doig, David Bates, and Joan Snyder) create images of remembered places, understanding the power of places to evoke personal memories and buried feelings. Others might “subscribe to a pantheistic view of nature, a belief in wilderness as a source of spiritual energy”. For them, a desert is not merely a place of little rainfall, and a mountain is not simply a place of extreme elevation. Rather, a desert may be a site for inducing mystic awareness, and a mountain may be cherished as a place of spiritual birth or rebirth.
Landscape as a Metaphor
The authors offer as an example of engaging with the constructed nature of place artists’ inventing settings of their own. This particular point in the discussion interested me the most as I am engaged in creating my ’coded’ landscapes myself. (I also have touched upon the idea of ‘places as metaphors’ in one of my previous posts ”Coded Landscapes in Mediated Visuality”.) “There is a long history of artists who have depicted their own invented dream scenarios and fantasy places (often concocted form observed elements as well as imagination).” (p.169) As an example of one of such artists I chose Matias Duville (“The Expanded Field” post, November 16th), who drew Alaska as an unknown place he had never visited or saw images from prior to creating a year-worth of work.
In creating a simulated place, an artist is engaged in an unusual quest: to create an alternative world that evokes the real one and yet retains its identity as a world apart. Rather than representing or symbolizing an actual place, a simulation offers an intense substitute. Typically, the viewer remains keenly conscious that the simulation is an artifice. “Nevertheless, the skilled craftsmanship and involved conception that went into producing the simulation yeld an uncanny effect: as viewers we feel ourselves transported into another realm brought magically to life within the borders of art.” The authors state that the exploration of the invented environments can include those that exist only in the shared imaginations of the audience.
Placenessness, dislocation, and homelessness the authors of the book view as “the flip side of place, locale, home, and habitation.” (p.176) While I read this part of the chapter with utter interest, one point made by the authors aroused some doubts: “Some people positively embrace a condition of rootlessness…” In my opinion, this statement might only be true concerning short-term voluntary traveling or changing of locale. Emigration (and the process of immigration) either voluntary or forced (e.g. in case of war or political persecution) is always accompanied by radical changes in the very fabric of identity and hardships for its survival. However positive such an “embrace” might be, the changes are invariably ’seasoned’ with some amount of suffering and pain the personality endures.
More profound than the temporary dislocations of tourists and business travelers are the experiences of those whose understanding of place is fragmented as a result of moving far away from their homeland. Pulled up by their roots, displaced people must often cross national borders and even oceans. A forced dislocation is an intense experience with both political and psychological effects. The authors of the book name displacement as “one of the central facts of contemporary culture” They also state that “Powerful art is being made by artists who want to bear witness to displacement.” (p.177) Some of these artists are immigrants themselves who have moved to a new country, often with a new language, and practice their art in a radically altered context.
Art about displacement may focus on the journey itself, the condition of being in transit between places with different languages, customs, material culture and ideas – a condition theorist Homi Babha named “in-betweenness.” Artists may explore the meaning and location of borders, boundaries, and zones of transit. They may consider the place left behind (“there”) or the adopted place (“here”) or interactions between both places. Here, in this in-betweenness, in this “interaction between … places” I officially place my own practice as an artist.
The displaced artist retains an emotional connection with the place left behind; “…indeed, the resonance of the original place is often enhanced and intensified by distance. At the same time, the artist is forging a new hybrid identity that draws on the physical surroundings and cultural climate of the new place” (p.178) The authors summarize this chapter by saying that “Imagery in works that are related to the theme of in-betweenness is often syncretic, that is, it mixes or juxtaposes multiple cultural references and ideas.” (p.178)
Creating large scale immersive environments projects the phenomenon and functions of memory onto the new and unknown. Building multi-layered worlds via placing one world upon another comments on the struggle of forging a new identity for displaced people – as a cultural phenomenon of contemporary world. It touches upon subjectivity and individual perception of multi-layered reality of today’s world and culture.
My created environments comment on temporal simultaneity and spatial synchronicity of events and places which are never far away. The large paintings bear almost forensic evidence of body’s presence which suggests their ‘inhabitability’ as new landscapes structured around metaphors drawn from nature.
Creating large scale immersive environments projects the phenomenon and functions of memory onto the new and unknown. Building multi-layered worlds via placing one world upon another comments on the struggle of forging a new identity for displaced people – as a cultural phenomenon of contemporary world. It touches upon subjectivity and individual perception of multi-layered reality of today’s world and culture.
My created environments comment on temporal simultaneity and spatial synchronicity of events and places which are never far away. The large paintings bear almost forensic evidence of body’s presence which suggests their ‘inhabitability’ as new landscapes structured around metaphors drawn from nature.