3.16.2009

spring cleaning and point zero.





Before I got all the way through the expanded edition of Lawrence Weschler’s Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees: over thirty years of conversations with Robert Irwin, I only had a partial grasp on the significance of reading this work at this specific time in my life. Throughout the last few days in which I’ve been almost totally steeped in the singular influence of this text, I’ve often trotted down the hall to tell Eric Ruschman, who I live with, this or that quote that fits squarely into my sides of debates and discussions about art and life over the past six to eight months. As Weschler tells it, he met Irwin by jotting a note to him asking if he had ever read Merleau-Ponty. He speculates now that if he had sent that note even weeks earlier, Irwin would have disregarded it. It was timing.

My time now.
Is hitting the studio and house with serious spring cleaning with my roommate, so that the floors are soft and clean to walk on and the open windows and thrown back curtains flood the house with cool light and air, and the soundscape of the city around me—an endlessly soothing way of locating myself.
Is the amazement of organizing a survey of images for a website in the works- how ideas can be traced several years hence.
Is eyeing my closet and shelf of clothes, wanting fewer, wanting less filler, thinking about it the way I’ve been thinking about food. Which
is an a priori consideration about what is going into me. Increasingly plant based. Almost totally organic. This weekend, I made a barley risotto with lemon zest, new young asparagus, and toasted hazelnuts. It sang springtime.
Is the cat cajoling with more zestful and adventuresome readiness that the deeper grays of winter have inspired.

Is the crisis between the questions that arise and how I perform in response to them. The problem of time management and seeking solutions within my creative means to get deeper. For several weeks, my time in the studio has resulted in an increasing array of humble, fragile visual hints and traces that can be held in waiting until they can be utilized within installations at various galleries and other situations through the next year and a half. Likewise, I’ve produced this or that piece of writing for this or that publication. All is basically well, except for how clearly I recognize the current of my own thoughts continue to move in spite of my attention to a singular act. By the time the plaster sets or the oil paint is smudged, I am (a) downstream in a series of questions that spun off from the impetus for making the creative work in the first place, or (b) somewhat displaced in the sacrifice of time given to the endeavor itself, so as to lose my footing in my own running discourse. Often the latter is the case, leaving me without a firm grip on my words when I spend evenings out with friends. My offerings to my context is a dopey, post-intellectual kindness. Happily drifting beyond phenomenological junctures and a political effort to undermine the social conditioning surrounding gender, love, sex, and aesthetics. Not long ago, I would sketch out a rough to do list of how I might spend the next few hours; of late, I want to find the time to be only in thought, or only in love, holding hands, or only confronting the slightest traces of life-affirmation, jubilation, and inter-connectedness through visual/sensual means.


Today I’m sitting in that Cat Power piece where she performed for a meadow itself.


Grappling with Irwin’s ideas, his progresses and evolutions has driven a new permanently helpful point of reference into my own artistic and aesthetic considerations. Few others have so struck me. Only Cy Twombly and Richard Tuttle come to mind immediately, though I feel I would be remiss in not citing Lynda Benglis and Petah Coyne as other identifiers in my creative growth.

Irwin has been wildly original, striking out on paths that are as clearly unsound in their application to economics, renown, and venerable legacies as they have been awfully and astoundingly important at getting to a level of engagement with pure visual and perceptive experience that maybe no other visual artist has ever dared toward.

On Thursday, I will be moderating a discussion of the Irwin book, so I don’t want to dig in too directly into the specific contents of the book. But there are such moving bits of insight in areas of the chapters small enough as to be likely overlooked in the short conversation being offered at the Contemporary Art Center. In one such area, Weschler brings up his grandfather, Ernst Toch, the German-Austrian modernist composer:
You must listen without always wanting to compare with the musical basis you already have. You must imagine that you inherited from your ancestors different compartments in the musical part of your brain, just as you inherited any other physical or intellectual qualities. Now when you hear a piece from the pre-classis, classic, or romantic periods, the sounds fall without any trouble and agreeably into the already prepared compartments. But when music for which you have no prepared compartments strikes your ear, what happens? Either the music remains outside you or you force it with all your might into one of those compartments, although it does not fit. The compartment is either too long or too short, either too narrow or too wide, and that hurts you and you blame the music. But in reality you are to blame, because you force it into a compartment into which it does not fit, instead of calmly, passively, quietly, and without opposition, helping the music to build a new compartment for itself.

A further possibility here is that in gracefully allowing new terms of engagement to develop around the music, likewise, previously instated contexts for the perceiver may also be adjusted, so that a mutual adaptation towards clearer specificity emerges, one that is respectful and keenly attuned enough as to suggest love. For example, in a Barnett Newman painting, the ‘zips’ (vertical lines placed at intervals against monochrome applications of color) do not occupy total fields as much as the suggestion or invocation of the idea of the total field. One can activate this suggested experience further by nearing the piece: the intimacy causes a loss of the points of reference outside of the painting, so that all a viewer perceives optically takes place within the expanse of canvas. The context for the field—a gallery in MOMA, of a page of Greenbergian explanations of Abstract Expressionism’s existential drives—fall away and a sensational encounter with formal information sparks profundity. Nearness, intimacy, trust, closer inspection, scrutiny, tenderness, a romance with the specifics of someone’s (oops, something’s) information would allow a context to emerge that doesn’t depend of antiquate or unhelpful models.
If it seems like a rant, it might be. Change is in the seasons and in this afternoon with a now drowsy cat and a glass of iced tea.

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