A glossary I made up to be available during the next exhibition…
No doubt the work is always a visible reality added to the other realities of the world, having its own concrete fact. The contents are evoked – the category of the ‘evocative picture’ stands tall throughout all of modern painting – and towards this evocation belongs the building of structures as modes of experience (as being and as attitude as artist.) But there are many problems with the model, first and foremost the problem of the artist as a creative-manipulator of optical experiences of the world, which echoes larger fields of architectural, spatial and environmental prometheanism. Modern Art teaches us how the modern human lived in the world: a kind of pseudo-Promethean controller of form where nature, or what remains of it, is arranged into ‘harmonies’ and ‘purities’ and in the most extreme cases is ironed-out of existence in favor of a counter-image. The counter-image (the culturally engineered rectitude) is held above the world as a totem of modernist conquering. With the advent of a geohistory we surpass this phase of the artist as primary form-giver or form-prodder bestowing control over plastic potentiality. The moderns held to the assumption, perhaps implicitly or perhaps underlining the basis of their platform, that the object is a dead object: it must be merely dead matter if the object is to be prodded into existence or transformed into the counter-image by the hand of the promethean. This vulgar materialism is displaced by an approach that takes on board the vitality of matter: overcoming an approach of matter as dead matter, we know that today objects are alive and they have their own mysteries apart from our measuring or form-giving. That we simply cannot take into account the entire thing, as if the properties we give the object were the object itself, pushes open a horizon where the evocative sign does not disappear but instead the imago as a counter-image held over nature is displaced. What would separate us from the moderns is a basic attitude towards an object. The objects are alive and pulsating with energy, and according to our physics are literally made of energy, and therefore of all of their own virtual potentialities. It is enough to employ the evocative-picture as a means of evoking objects to perform their own making of themselves, which is to say, to step back from the totalitarian aspirations of the artist as engineer to allow the object to emerge out of its own. Painting that confronts the geologic brings about an elemental fascination with what has its own agency: the artist is not the controller of forms but their steward.
Through painting as a virtuality of matter, the vision is the advent ex-nihilo of its being. The excess of becoming exceeds every law of composition.
There is a tendency to divide reality into two parts and then assign them different degrees: the presumptions follow a line of demarcation between ‘primary’ qualities of the physical world and ‘secondary’ qualities of subjective experience; this is also stated as a division between the cause of awareness and the apprehension of awareness, or even further, between things and sensations. But these divisions were arbitrarily setup by the modern mind and the practice is the fallacy. The demarcations are disrupted by injecting process into the equation (Whitehead), which is intended to overcome the divisions by exhibiting the interrelations between. Processes envelop everything. There are interrelations between culture (constitutions in the process that one determines by tradition) and nature (formulations/effects in the process determined by bio-geo). There are interrelations between seeing (visually grasped in terms of processes, structured visually) and knowing (knowledge introduced establishing the process, structuring process). There are interrelations between the inside (what is formulated inside us) and outside (what is manifested outwardly as action). There are interrelations between points of reference (fixed points) and the open field (continual change in position). There are interrelations between intuition (process of the work is developed intuitively) and planning (with reference to theme and direction). There are interrelations between order (arrangement or structure) and chaos (free, uncontrolled, self-expanding development). There are interrelations between the physical (weight of bodily activity or mass of parts) and the psychological (volume of formations), and also that between the eye (momentary situations with my eyes) and memory (development of history as recorded by the mind). There are interrelations between demonstrations (of practice, getting to know the measurable through experience of preconditions) and use (process or operations in terms of procedure). Every interrelation is a translation and the translations are a kind of circling of the divided square of experience. This extends all the way through artistic practices…
Those of us living in the 21st century ought to familiarize ourselves with catastrophe because we going to see a lot more of it. We forget that not all action on the world-stage is human: the earth itself is an agent in constant, dynamic and often violent change. The Anthropocene, as a geological term identifying how the human-agent and the geological-agent are intertwined together, is one big catastrophe. Record heat-waves, massive flooding, violent storms, earthquakes and tsunamis are just some of the weather events that we face and it is quite impossible to determine where our agency stops and the earth’s begins, which is to say, it is becoming difficult to understand the repercussions of our actions. Add to these weather events ocean acidification, radioactive fallout, poisoned ground-water, etc., and we get a picture of how mortifying and predicated on death that capitalism can be. The artist living in tumultuous times should inform themselves with the catastrophic because it has become our general condition. We are increasingly surrounded by it. An inquiry into catastrophism reveals that the earth has been through several boundary events and many in the geological record devastatingly more violent than the boundary event we are currently witnessing – that is why catastrophism trumps gradualist approaches, especially when the variable of human agency is tossed into the geological record.
It is the sensitivity to suffering that demarcates the sheep from the goats: the ability to feel the connection that is embodied in beings. Earth is not simply another floating rock among the rocks of space, it is a living body. But Earth is not a unified organism, it is instead an improvisational assemblage: a series of interconnected processes and contingent events interlocked into a planet-wide feedback. The fabric of the living body is woven through tectonic plates, meteorite impacts, and ice ages. What kind of being does the human become after being connected to the animation of Gaia? Those re-attached to the earth’s loops and networks, as sensitive to the interconnections of ecology, are no longer “human” but earthbound.
Erosion is not just a geological term for the removal of soil, it is the basic condition of form. “We can ignore or forget the fact that the ground we live on is little other than a field of multiple destructions.” (George Baitalle)
Undertaking fieldwork I find myself pulling out ideas from that site where water meets land. I am not out in the field to do data collection – I’ll leave that to the geologists. I’ve been walking the coasts of the great lake searching for places where sensation rubs up against erosion and sedimentary movement. What is “not so solid?” – It is the very ground beneath our feet. We can take this literally in the data of beach erosion and rising water levels but we could also interpret it in the symbolic order: there really is no ground of nature for which a return would be possible (Zizek). The ground has always been changing. That seems to be the basic lesson of the dark ecologists.
As Benjamin observed, the truth content of works of art can only be grasped through the immersion of a material content. Dissatisfied with the Third Critique where Kant attempts to ground aesthetics in the observer or recipient rather than in the work of art itself, and following Benjamin, the position of an evaluative mode whose bearings are arbitrarily set by external standards is displaced by an immanent undertaking that is work-centered. Method is not something existing in isolation from research and is instead determined immanently through the necessities of the object of research itself. Where does this lead us? The vision sees the imago as a concentration of energy that is within nature itself, involving the act of immanence of the forms laid upon the plane of happening. With geohistory emerges stratified beauty, as paintings are distillations of the creative truth of the universe.
Landscapes do not exist in ‘wild nature.’ They are cultural formations, cut through by the framing of the gaze. The landscape of art is the concern of taking-in and preserving a perspective on reality that is otherwise the processes of unconscious force. Landscapes are not only mythological, they are also political. The gaze is constituted by political ideologies.
Magnitude is the measure of the strength of an earthquake based on the amount of movement recorded by a seismograph. Launching away from a strictly geological definition, each object possesses its own magnitude. An interesting undertaking for the artist would be the jotting-down or recording of the sensations as they erupt on the seismograph of now-time.
Art does not want a representation of life, it wants to feel and know what is real in action, life and work. What is real is material. But art is an approach towards the making of a world, as an event simultaneously producing the artist’s mode of existence and the utter un-know-ability of existence. An experience of art is not replaceable to an analysis of a formula, and so it goes with all other objects. The truth of material is its very immateriality. Material = revelation
The undertaking of common humanity must be the aim of making consciousness non-objective, or of ridding consciousness as something for the ego’s own possession. Such was the aim of the last century’s avant-garde artists, but this approach failed because it was based on the principle of engineering (by which the social engineers turned it into a political weapon by equating the utopian art with the reconstruction of Man and Environment within the totality of rational order). If there is anything worth retaining in this legacy, then to continue with it means to usurp the figure of the engineer with that of the geologist. Through a geologic sensibility we may come across the mineralization of the imagination. The mind shall become its own portion in the sediment of the world. Through the affectivity of the geologic there are no political borders, no races, no classes, no sexual orientations, no divisions – it is indeed the common source of the humus itself. The artist creates objects refigured in the material as the communion of the anonymous human of the earthbound.
So many texts on art over-historicize the Object, ignoring the more essential possibility of the historical situation which speaks through the Object.
Artists everywhere, regardless of wherever they are, struggle with the question or whether or not art is possible here. Artists who take off for greener pastures or for jostling for recognition in the cities suffer a loss by doing so, because there is only ever a single question and that question can be answered anywhere. Is art possible here? – that question gives the advantage of touching more reflective circumstances as to the limitations or possibilities of locality. Artists dealing with place are often eager to demonstrate the methodological, even spiritual or metaphysical difference found in the expressions of a place, and these elements can and ought to be expressed everywhere. Place art comes to stand for something beyond regional art: it has one eye engrossed in local landscape, sensibilities, techniques or methods, and the other eye associated with ideas, visual analyses or theories that are globally significant.
The theory of global tectonics according to which the lithosphere is divided into mobile plates: not only those segments composed of continental material, but the entire lithosphere is in motion, which is to say, in process.This can be extended symbolically to the nature of processes of being: every event that includes the build-up or tear-down of forms is its own minuscule tectonic bombardment.
Being is a dynamic field of ever-changing processes of becoming. Process as a method set within the apperception of consciousness makes the artist concerned with what is occurring as well as ways of occurring. There are sequences and stages of occurring that give beings directionality or passages of time. Process envelops everything, from quantum entanglement to consciousness, from the taxonomy of beings to the emergence of species, etc. Who I was ten years ago is different from who I’ll become ten years from now, and when I die I’ll become an oak tree.
There is a problem with representation: the tension is one between the object and that which it is an image of. The image is an image of the world that occupies the place of the world, which is to say, where the world disappears in the image (or when the image disappears in the world). But through the emphasis on the plasticity of the materials the painter may get close enough to touch something deeper than representation. The painting as an object is a presentation of ‘solidified’ forms (solidified materials, tones and energies): it is not a representation of a scene as if the scene was a window-into-a-world simulating three-dimensional space, and is instead an object manifesting itself in its material relations. Painting becomes a sort of micro gesture of what is going on elsewhere, and in that sense the imago becomes the world: the morphological or casual dimension at the heart of making.
Scale is an affect in the condition of perception. Scale ought to be divorced from an equation with size, as Robert Smithson once said, ‘a crack in the wall or the sidewalk can become the grand canyon.’ This attention to scale-invariance is important when interrelating painting with the earth. I am searching for a kind of aesthetic resonance that would pick up upon such an affect of perception. In terms of scale, there is essentially no difference between the rundown of paint and soil on the vertical plane of the painted object and the rundown of pigments on the cliffs of Lake Superior, or between the sedimentation and erosion of material on the painting and the geologic work one can view of earth at 5000 feet. Abstract geology in painting is first and foremost about the immanence of material and its relation to an aesthetic dimension happening in the expansive arena of surface formation: it is a perfect medium in which to call attention to scale invariance.
Smithson’s ideas about ‘abstract geology’ fascinate me and specifically the politics of geology as the refusal of art as a historical narrative with which the values and morality of Man could be injected. What are the politics of the volcano or the landslide or the tsunami? Certainly they aren’t inscribed into the practice of historical Man: they are actors coming-in from elsewhere – from the outside, annihilating the simplicity of human vision. Smithson was obsessed with the Triassic, and something similar can be suggested per geological, deep-time: over and beyond the modernist art narrative of medium-specific progression stands the testimony of the sedimentary record.
The geological definition of soil is all the unconsolidated material above bedrock. It contains living matter or is capable of supporting life. The potential of the soil is how we have come to be, hence our name ‘human’ for humus. But how is it that biology may evolve from geology? There would be something distinguishable, an event.
The studio is a crossing between paths: artistic activity, philosophy, aesthetics, the biographical and the person of the artist. Converging at this intersection the studio is what gives immediate rise to an event where emotional, intellectual and aesthetic levels merge with lived-experience. “The painter’s studio becomes a fact in their life, it finds its place in an experience understood in a new way – just like the notion we bandy about when we acknowledge that somebody ‘is’ experienced. In retrospect, ‘having an experience’ morphs into ‘being experienced.’ [Daniele Cohn]
The Symbol has gone through several permeations: the classical (Cosmos), the romantic (Nature), the modern (History), where each took the undertaking towards what is the non-human entity that assures humans of the objectivity of their values [Harman]. The first symbol ends in the collapse of the cosmological symbol linked to Newtonian decomposition of planetary orbits into linear movements; the second symbol ends in amoral vitalisms; the third symbol of history ends in brute economicism, whether that of Marxism or neoliberalization. In each collapse, the philosophers and artists have been found wanting, awaiting the route whereby there may be a unification with being and justice…
Texture is the appearance of a form according to the materials composing it. Apart from color, texture is the basic element in the sensory-sensual-manifold of the artist. Beautiful textures are everywhere and beauty arises out of material. Recognizing the beauty of textures that permeate experience, the artist sees art in the most mundane of places.