Tuesday, 30 September 2014

My Fight With an Iguana

My Fight With an Iguana

In my mind I wrestled the iguana and I won
and I thought it was a rather fair fight I did
because I broke a sweat and even cut myself a little and my blood was drawn
and I let out a series of grunts of ohs and ahs
so you know it was a fair fight because I had to release steam from my mouth,
vocally I had to say this is a fair fight without actually saying it with words I had to say
I am struggling because this iguana is heavier than the average weight of a male iguana
and his nails are long and his row of spines are protruding all erect waiting
to aggressively lead me to recoil myself all by myself
before the rain starts and mixes with the sun and forms a rainbow to be the backdrop
to this strange fight which has come to attract a crowd.

The teenagers are filming the scene on their iPhones
probably to upload onto YouTube because its not every day
you see a small girl fighting a meter long iguana in front of a rainbow.
They will put glitter on my face when they announce me the victor
and I will have to stomach it all.

On Malevich and the Intimacy of Line

The new Kazimir Malevich show at the Tate Modern is curated in such a way that it tracks the various ideological and stylistic changes within his painting practice more or less chronologically. What particularly struck me were his two iconic self-portraits, one at the start of his career and one at the very end. Although I had seen these two paintings before, I was more familiar with his Suprematist work and of course Black Square. While I would never wish to discredit the social and political drives of Malevich’s turn to geometric abstraction and his wish to represent that which does not participate in the natural, I can’t help but wonder if this is also in a sense, personal.

From my own experience with drawing, I know that there are times where I am eager to draw myself, others, and the world around me. In other moments, I limit my observation of the world to straight angles, drawing each line with a ruler, refusing the flexibility of a freer hand. I have come to feel that when I draw with a ruler, it is because I am feeling a lack of confidence, that a line without a ruler would be too personal and would reveal too much about me.

If Malevich’s intent was to distance himself from painting the natural, he was also establishing a distance between his art and himself. I am not in a position to know Malevich’s biography so intimately that I could discern what he may have been personally enduring at these times, nor do I think this would be a helpful endeavor. Perhaps in the end, all that can be speculated is that artists not only respond to the political and social realities around them, nor are restricted by reactions to the history of art. Instead, it is fruitful to consider that so much goes on emotionally within a human being, that we can never fully comprehend his or her motives, nor should we assume that an artist is aware of these themselves. Looking at Malevich’s two self-portraits then, separated in time by Black Square, all we can do is hypothesize that perhaps there is something here we do not fully understand. More simply, these works considered together are proof of the fluctuation and temperamental nature of how we experience ourselves from one moment to the next. And yet, perhaps I am completely mistaken, that in fact, there is something deeply intimate and revealing about painting the picture of a black square. 

Year: 1910
Source: http://www.wikiart.org/en/kazimir-malevich/self-portrait-1910

Year: 1915
Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime/philip-shaw-kasimir-malevichs-black-square-r1141459

Year: 1933
Source: http://www.wikiart.org/en/kazimir-malevich/self-portrait-1933

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Liquid Dreams

In my attempts to further probe issues related to unfixed, varying or mercurial personalities, I picked up the book Liquid Modernity by Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman who forwards the claim that culture today is liquid and thus in a continual state of being in between. Bauman describes Modernity as subject to “fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and [an] inclination to constant change”(viii). He claims that a condition of such liquidity is that there is an obsessive and compulsive drive to continue to make things Modern, to modernize; everything (and this includes identity) is in constant flux and in a constant state of “becoming” rather than being established, intact or complete. In this sense, the new is never sufficiently stable to be fixed or enduring as it is too quickly replaced and becomes the old, the dated. Bauman goes on to say that “change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty” and I would tend to agree with him (viii). 

He explains that liquidity is a product or result of the desire or “quest for solidity”(ix), that we seek improvement despite not having an ultimate image of what we would like the world to look like. I have come to view this angle as a moving without direction while maintaining the premise that such a movement is good and progressive.

I am wondering then if perhaps this is not only applicable to culture and society at large but pertains as well to our emotional states whereby we are all, in a sense, locked in perpetual adolescence, a liminal space, a space in between. With this, I am brought as well to the Process Art of the 1960s and 1970s and particularly to Richard Serra’s 1968 film “Hand Catching Lead”, a three minute recording of a piece of lead dropping and a hand attempting to catch the raw material as it falls into the frame. Serra thus draws attention not to any final product, but rather to crude matter and the ways in which both the piece of lead and the hand are altered, becoming weathered through the repetitive action.

I am also interested in the current status of drawing as a medium on its own rather than as being perceived merely as a mode or document of process. Can drawing be esteemed important enough in and of itself that it is a final product? Is it possible that no project in any medium can be thought to ever be complete? Or, does a work of art change by way of analysis and interpretation throughout time?

In a sense, solidity is no longer a viable option. While it may be attractive to some, it is simply not believable; any morsel of proof of outcome is impossible. In addition, the world is so diverse that any single solid could never succeed to represent all of humanity. It seems that even our definitions of primordial sensations or emotions such as hunger or sadness are felt at radically different levels that the words we use to describe such experience prove to be fickle and fluid. But perhaps ultimately, the riskiness of liquidity keeps us on our toes and motivates us to be active citizens. Although we may not have any given plan, it is vital to remember that in all of history, no one has been able to predict the future. If this is all the case, we might as well continue to follow our liquid dreams. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Notes on "The Hedgehog and the Fox"

In continuing to think of what it means to be a “dabbler”, I went to Isaiah Berlin’s book The Hedgehog and the Fox. Upon initially hearing the premise of his essay, that creative and intellectual people can be divided in two categories, one that is extremely focused on a single idea and the other that attends to several ideas, I instinctively (and falsely) thought that the former was the fox, the latter the hedgehog. I imagined the fox as some kind of predator, concentrating on capturing on her prey while the hedgehog might be more of floater, dipping in and out of activities and pursuits.

Berlin begins by drawing on a line from the Greek poet Archilochus who forwards the claim that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”. He proceeds to analyze this statement by classifying “writers and thinkers” into these two divides: the hedgehog who spends her life directed by and fixated on “a single central vision… a single, universal, organizing principle”, and the fox who “pursue[s] many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory”. He goes on to explain that foxes think and create on multiple levels picking “experiences and objects” without looking to taxonomize them in such a way that they should fit a pre-conceived idea of what they are to mean and how the are to communicate.

It seems that for Berlin, there is not one category that is superior to the other but that the great thinkers fit into both. While it may seem that the hedgehog, because of her focus, would be more successful, it is impossible to attribute great achievement to be a product of solely one of these creative personalities. His essay goes to on assert that Tolstoy is the exception to this formula (however flexible) and to illustrate why this is the case. But I would like to return here to where we started: the dabbler.

What comes to mind here is the concept of the bricoleur (originally used by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss) as she who generates a meaningful unit, a creative product from a variety of materials, often found matter or debris. When I think of the person who creates a bricollage, the nearest term, for me, is the French word  “débrouillard” which loosely translates as someone who is resourceful, perhaps someone who has DIY morals. But it seems to me the bricoleur is more than this. She is a collector of sorts, perhaps even an artful hoarder who assembles a variety of objects, I prefer the word “things”, and repurposes them in a cluster or congregation that in turn forms a whole, a new and more complex thing. I think here of contemporary artist Sarah Sze’s installations in the American Pavillion at the 2013 Venice Bienniale given the title “Triple Point”. By assembling together a myriad of things (plants, office supplies, photographs, furniture etc.), her bricollages are vivid and animated. Berlin’s claim that the fox need not view a thing through the singular lens of one established idea could be understood then as the opening of a space for objects to exist on their own or for themselves. In this way, Sze’s work can be seen as facilitating such a space whereby things can exist as a multivalent plurality, touching upon several different ideas and meanings at once.

Sze is perhaps just one illustration of how the fox might be illustrated, but I think it is fruitful to further this example. Its seems that perhaps today, the fox is not just someone who is open to a variety of ideas, but someone who seeks to pursue these ideas through a variety of media. I might even go as far to say that artistic culture today fosters the development of foxes more than hedgehogs in the estimation allocated to those who pursue inter-disciplinary projects and activities. Perhaps today, such a division between the hedgehog and the fox could not be made with so much intent. Perhaps we are all, all at once, both hedgehogs and foxes. Perhaps the fluidity relationship is a reflection of the constant oscillation between these two protagonists in our own personal and mercurial trials to assemble for ourselves a self as well as to create something we feel to be meaningful.