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.

Works Cited:

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.


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Duomo & Idolatry



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.  

To be continued…


Work Cited:

Mitchell, W.J.T., ed. “Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness”. Landscape and Power. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. Print.

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Projected Hope

Promised, 05/2011, gouache, synthetic polymer and oil on canvas, 66″x110″

Promised is a reflection on and my own rendering of the hot political landscape of Israel framed by the current shoreline (artistic rendering) and doubled by the projected shorelines copied from the ancient maps. I felt the shorelines had to be painted in oil, as their creation originally was the depiction or projection of hope on the unknown. It makes them passionate and uncertain, artistic more than accurate, and fragile and personal as opposed to mass-printed and self-important. The earliest map I found in the book The Jewish Book 365 Days which comprises different relics from the collections of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem was drawn in the thirteenth century, but was re-drawn from an earlier one. There were 12 old maps in that book; some very meticulous, some – naive. One of the maps from 1594 depicted the map of Asia in a shape of a winged horse. Behind the rear legs that were marked as “India Meridionalis” and “India Orientalis” was the region which still hosted dragons. And while very decent maps were available from Spanish sources by the middle of the 16th century, the re-drawn maps of the Holy Land kept preserving that naivety of hope projected onto land.  One of the Dutch maps from 1629 still depicted monsters guiding the shores of Israel. The Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea are distorted and imaginary in that map – and so they are in my painting, with the Jordan River starting up above the land. I found out that it was a tradition to mix real with legends in the maps of the early days: e.g., The Map of the Holy land ca.1630 by Gerardus Mercator (1512 – 1594) incorporated the story of Jonah and the whale which literally takes place in the beautifully drawn waves of Maris Mediterranaen.

The shorelines in those maps were of particular importance as they were the first glimpse of the promised land. I also marvelled at the many names for it: Terra Sancta, Hebraeorum, Israelitarum, Terra Chanaan, Terra Promiffionis olim Palestina, and the Land of Promise.

I ‘citated’ the shorelines of three old maps in my painting:

1. 1486 - by Claudius Ptolemaeus, from “Cosmographia”

2. 1578 – by Gerard de Jode, description of the Holy land on paper

3. 1618 – by Gerardus Mercator after Ptolemaus’s Geographia -a hand-colored engraving on paper.

Postscriptum: After I posted this description last week, I got a new book, recommended to me by Dr Megan A. Smetzer – Landscape and Power edited by W.J.T. Mitchell. Two articles of that collection seemed exptremely relevant to my work on Promised: “Invention, Memory, and Place” by Edward W. Said and “Holy Landscape: Israel, Palestine, and the American Wilderness” by W.J.T. Mitchell. being familiar with the work of Edward W. Said and his Orientalism, I still found his article very informative. His view of tradition and memory as “social, political, and historical enterprise” (244) as opposed to something authentic captures the essence of the negative experience as felt by the other side in the conflict. Memory, especially collective memory (as well as communal identity) can be fabricated and serve the needs of a political argument.

I found Mitchell’s article even more revealing in the light of my search: “The perverse logic of holy landscape seems to turn it from god’s gift into an obscene idol that demends human sacrifices” he writes (262). Mitchell argues that landscape is capable of becoming an idol or a potent ideological representation that serves to naturalize power relations and erase history and legibility. He further criticizes the Western tradition where a landscape is an abstraction from place and a “reification of space”, in which ignorance, or “wilful unknowing” is central to the concept (265). I felt it was amusing that my Promised, already a bitter irony on the naive cherished hope of acquring a “Holy Land” that was inevitably crushed by the harsh reality of the actual place and the conflict inherent to it, was a painting with both sides of the conflict in mind. So, as one of G-d’s ‘chosen’ people and as one who savoured quite a lot of harshness and suffering in that land I produced a visual image that sort of denied itself. Mitchell views a tourist to the land as an ignoramus, or “gastarbeiter, the migrant worker who brings nothing but some skills developed elsewhere” (264). And while I personally fit into that definition of a wonderer, I also ask myself how long you must stay in the land, or for what reasons excluding the dictionary definition of “nomadism” ( not Romantic but the original a person who changes location because of the changing needs) you have to come to Israel to be able to pass judgement, or call the memory your own. I can not claim the authenticity of my own experience or my memories – but who can? Does one have to be born in the land to have this right? Or is it so when your own children are born there?

Mitchell claims that all deserts are imaginary (272). This statement holds solid with me. Forgetting is part of the memory function. Forgetting and transforming and then using this image as transplaced and projected on the new places – is exactly what I am exploring in my art. Projecting half-forgotten onto the new and unknown is as well. For some reason, however, I would not accept the blames in “Romanticist” vision or rendering of places. I am an immigrant – a person on the other side of all the pretty, appealing, and at the same time revolting that connotates the words “nomads” or “authentic experience” – I was not searching for any authenticity when I moved (not traveled!) to Israel. I had to survive there. Blaming Romanticist approach on refugees or immigrants could be compared to accusing 19th century Japanese in the phenomenon of Japonisme.

(to be continued) 

Work Cited:

1. Abrams, Harry N, ed. The Jewish World 365 Days. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. 2004. Print.

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Passport, 2011, performance (detail), by Robert Whitman

Passport, 2011.

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).

 Works Cited:

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.

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Intimate Immensity

Oscillation, 03/2011, 90″x136″, gouache and synthetic polymer on canvas

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.

Works Cited:

  Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space.1958. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon Press,

       1994. Print.

   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.

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Landscape Theory

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 “imbedded 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)

Work Cited:

Ziady DeLue, Rachael, Elkins, James, eds. 2008. Landscape Theory. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print.

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Painting and Gender-Specificity

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…)

Work Cited:

Deepwell, Katy. “Claims for a Feminist Politics in Painting”, Contemporary Painting in Context, Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2010. Print.


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Emergence of ‘Impolite’ Landscape

Unfolding (Forces), 02/2011, gouache and synthetic polymer on canvas, 60″x72″                 

         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).

Work Cited:

    Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. The World of Perception, 1948. New York: Routledge

        Classics, 2008. Print.

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Subversion and Subsidy & Wet

Source, 02/2011, gouache, synthetic polymer and oil on canvas, 60″x48″


Subversion and Subsidy and 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?”

Works Cited:

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.

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Forenzic Evidence of Vision and Being

                   Forenzic Evidence of Vision and Being

Borealis, 01/2011, gouache, synthetic polymer and oil on canvas (stretched), 72″x96″

The word ‘forenzic’ does not exist. It is the misspelled word ‘forensic’ that might evoke another word, ‘frenzy’.  I used ‘forenzic’ for describing the almost palpable or easily traceable evidence of the movements of the body in my paintings. The letter “z” however, seemed to shift the meaning from legal vocabulary to the realm of the mind.

This shift brought about an inquiry into the role of mind and body in the act of painting. Merleau-Ponty’s “Eye and Mind” seemed to be a good source to re-visit for the purpose. “The painter’s world is a visible world, nothing but visible: a world almost mad, because it is complete though only partial” (p.2)

“The painter “takes his body with him”, says Valery. Indeed we cannot imagine how a mind could paint. It is by lending his body to the world that the artist changes the world into paintings. To understand these transubstantiations we must go back to the working, actual body – not the body as a chunk of space or a bundle of functions but that body which is an intertwining of vision and movement.” (p.2)

Merleau-Ponty reminds us that we only see what we look at because vision is attached to movement. What we see around us is within our (or our sight’s) reach. Thus the visible world and the world of our motor projects are both total parts of the same Being. He calls this phenomenon an “extraordinary overlapping” which prevents us from conceiving of vision as an ‘operation of thought’.

How will the imaginary be connected to the vision, to the body? What do we picture to ourselves to be beyond the sea (and beyond the “see-able”) – in the land we have never physically reached? Will it be just projections of some encounters the body and the embodied mind have already experienced?

“… the imaginary is much nearer to, and much farther from, the actual – nearer because it is in my body as a diagram of the life with all its pulp and carnal obverse exposed to view for the first time. …And the imaginary is much farther away from the actual because the painting is an analogue or likeliness only according to the body; because it does not offer the mind an occasion to rethink the constitutive relations of things, but rather it offers the gaze traces of vision, from the inside in order that it may espouse them; it gives vision that which clothes it within, the imaginary texture of the real.” (p.4)

The painter, Merleau-Ponty states, while he is painting, “practices a magical theory of vision. (it makes no difference if he does not paint from “nature”, he paints, in any case, because he has seen, because the world has at least once emblazoned in him the ciphers of the visible.)” (p.5) He mentions here Max Ernst’s words that “the painter’s role is to circumscribe and project what is making itself seen within himself.” 

Though Merleau-Ponty links vision to the body and calls the painter’s act “practising of the magical theory of vision”, he insists that “the language of painting is never instituted by nature”; it must be made and remade. He believes that no means of expression, once mastered transforms it into a technique. The act of painting in his reading sounds as a natural act: “We speak of “inspiration” and the word should be taken literally. There really is inspiration and expiration of Being, respiration in Being, action and passion so slightly discernible that it becomes impossible to distinguish between who sees and who is seen, who paints and what is painted. …The painter’s vision is an ongoing birth.” (p.7) Later on in the article he almost contradicts himself recalling reports of Klee’s colors appearing on canvas as if triggered by natural phenomena as patina or a mold.

But the painters always knew from experience that no technique or perspective is an exact and total solution to the ultimate projection of the existing world which would respect it in all aspects and deserves to become the fundamental law of painting. “Vision reassumes its fundamental power of manifestation, of showing more than itself. … No longer is it a matter of speaking about space and light, but of making space and light, which are there, speak to us. There is no end to this questioning, since the vision to which it is addressed is itself a question. …What is depth, what is light, ti tu ov? What are they – not for the mind that cuts itself off from the body but for the mind Descartes says is suffused throughout the body? And what are they, finally, not only for the mind but for themselves, since they pass through us and surround us?

This philosophy, which is yet to be elaborated, is what animates the painter – not when he expresses opinions about the world but in that instant when his vision becomes gesture, when in Cezanne’s words, he “thinks in painting.” (p.12)

Merleau-Ponty explains that the painter’s vision is not a view upon the outside world, a merely “physical-optical” relation with the world or connection to the world. What the painter seeks beneath the words depth, space, and color is “the inner animation, this radiation of the visible” (p.15). The famous words of Klee that the painter’s goal is not to “render the visible, but to render visible” that the author references at this point might be helpful for the insight into the of body-mind-vision relationship. “Vision is the meeting, as at crossroads of all the aspects of Being…it is impossible to say that here the nature ends and the human being or expression begins. It is, then, silent Being that itself comes to show forth its own meaning. Herein lies the reason why the dilemma between figurative and non figurative art is wrongly posed; … no painting no matter how abstract, can get away from Being. This precession of what is upon what one sees and makes seen, of what one sees and makes seen upon what is – this is vision itself.” (p.18)

One of the conclusions the author arrives at is that “The idea of a universal painting, of a totalization of painting, of painting being fully and definitely accomplished is an idea bereft of sense. For painters, if any remain, the world will always be yet to be painted; even if it lasts millions of years… it will all end without having been completed.” (p.19)

This last paragraph echoes in my heart as I find a sort of justification of my “frenzy” – this urgency that translates itself in paintings either reminding the actual world or totally imaginative ones that however, come to light as a result of my vision that is the crossroads of all the aspects of my Being. My paintings then do not only offer an almost forensic evidence of the body presence, but are themselves the forenzic evidence of my vision as part of my Being.   

Works Cited:

  1. Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “Eye and Mind”, trans. Carleton Dallery in The Primacy of Perception, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964.



Wind Series, #3. 60″x42, gouache transfer and collage on paper, 12/2010


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 had 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 from 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.

In-Between Places

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)


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