Archive for September, 2019

The Cautionary Tale of That Dreadful Man

There was an essay to read for the Creative Research group, a curator’s essay about an artist.

I couldn’t read it.

I started. I re-started. The first paragraph was mostly the artist’s words, a broad setting of the stage. Good. The second paragraph – I have no words. It had too many words. Strangely leaden, clumsy, repetitious words, desanguinated words, the life and meaning sucked from them.

Starting at the third paragraph didn’t help. The theme was dismemberment, and the writer performed his subject with a bloody pile of random buzz words, and disjoint references to other critics, other artists, other works.

The Creative Research group demurred. Yes, the writing was awkward, but the structure worth examining, the artist of considerable interest.

My creative life is limited, I declared. I can get better value elsewhere, better information without hand to hand combat with an incoherent foe. Too much of life has already been drained by pompous, arrogant, narcissistic, hollow, self-proclaimed authorities.

Finally I relented. That Dreadful Man was back in the to-be-read pile. At the end, beyond the cliff-edge of my life, never to be seen again. There was some discomfort. Declaiming with such vigour is suspicious – she doth protest too much. Something I could live with…

until the fates intervened. My day job faltered, the green fields of a Creative Life expanded, the cliff-edge retreated.

The curator, That Dreadful Man (TDM), re-appeared. Smirking.

Better get it done and gone. But I still couldn’t read it.

What exactly was the problem?

The writing was choppy, not flowing. In the unusual structure there was deliberate repetition with jarring variation. The writer was creating paradox, the unexpected, unconventional use of terms – clashing with the artist’s own deployment of those techniques, and looking even more contrived and weak by comparison. So much of the essay was not actually his words. It was a clumsy stringing together of other people’s ideas, like a cheesy clip show on TV.

Time to be specific. Generate a table of data, some numbers to quantify the disaster.

But that doesn’t take into account TDM’s words, only the insertions. Perhaps a visualisation of the types of words counted on 2 pages.

But that doesn’t suggest the fragmented character of the writing.

Using the same two pages, a count of the different categories of segments – a word or words of the same type, before they are interrupted by different categories. This time a treemap to show part-to-whole.

If this was an interactive dashboard you could drill down to see the individual snatches of phrases and references that make up the treemap. Would that help?

Perhaps the issue is around the words TDM selects. A somewhat subjective count of major word groups used gave a word cloud.

I still didn’t have an insight into the reason, or reasons, for my difficulties.

Perhaps a deeper dive into the text. How are the words used together? Those same two pages, only TDM’s words, and excluding words of three letters or less, gives:

libidinal economy, desire elliptical. That strategy. Some anti-Oedipal: they could what call, their function being . break object dismember plate convert regime desiring machine. establishes short-circuit canon virtuoso . aura object confronts social dysfunction.
lists some principles economy implies. places viewer game lack completeness, dismemberment cohesion. Minimalist economy resounds here. organization merely compositional economic. organizes whole tense confrontation with atomistic perception. resisting pulverization, effort against entropy.
What?
belongs family androgyny. quotes lines from : says. acknowledges that identity relates . object androgyny . observed that constituting home, work with Iceland, searching. points political ethos androgyny . argues that language compounds identity, that shifters, like, ungendered.
What?
geometry. appreciates geometry that there imperceptible, like Arctic Circle like geometry finds poetry. twenty-five blocks showing twenty-five letters remark. works , remarks.
Among, assigns continuous, baroque movement clown realm angular geometry. initial dispersion parts cut-up geometry, approaches pulverization seen lithograph . After disintegration, however, seek cohesion.
there poetry? quotes lines. Therefore, witchcraft.
What?
syntax, quite grammar.
book production, become. syntax involves orderly system things dismembered, destabilized, defrosted. requalifies form properties visual language. demands into planes reassembled, sometimes even conflated with parts particles another plate. diagram infinite grammatical sentences discussed. mediated relationship language – doubling, pairing, conjugation, editing, including memories. observes that require syntactic completion. compound smaller larger than original plate. stands fact discipline, says .
cognitive activity, invention syntax – would. makes analogy between scrambling syntax Cubist painting. operates rational scrambling

Another approach could keep the layout of TDM’s page. Just one page this time.

Beginning to run out of ideas, I amused myself with a mesostic of That Dreadful Man.

None of these techniques were as effective in showing the source of my difficulties as a simple photograph of those two pages, coloured and marked as I worked and re-worked to understand the issues – not those explored by TDM, but the underlying cause/s of the unreadability.

All of this, and I still hadn’t read the essay.

TDM would not defeat me. I would read every single word, give weight to every word in the essay.

I knit it. Garter stitch, three stitches per word. Time and reading embodied in knitting.

The base thread is undyed tussah silk ribbon. Colour coded with strips of torn fabric to match the markup developed. Pretty much all my hand-dyes, a mix of tissue, paj and organza silk. Roughly 20 x 143 cm, although it will stretch thinner and longer. Scarf sized, it looks superficially useful but try it on and the tufts are just an irritation. A fitting description for the essay and the whole project really.

Seventeen days of active work, spread over a month. More time than I spend on most books. I feel there should be some moral to this Cautionary Tale. Beware of smirking, performing, “experts”. Trust your first instincts. But in the end, most annoyingly, I found the material interesting. This is an artist, these are themes, that resonate. The essay structure opens up questions and breaks down assumptions.

It was worth reading.

Wirrimanu: Art from Balgo

This current exhibition at AGNSW fills a gallery with pulsating colour. I’ve visited a few times over the weeks. A print-maker friend gave some interesting insights, speculating on techniques that may have been used in some of the prints included in the exhibition. My mother found it fascinating, having met some of the artists included in the exhibition when she visited Balgo/Wirrimanu for two weeks in 2000. Mum knew a couple of people who were working there. At that time there were no scheduled flights in, just the weekly mail plane which serviced the area. Mum helped out in the school (she’d been a teacher prior to the arrival of all of us), and went on a series of excursions around the area.

I tried to practice some attentive looking, spending some time with Kinyu (1991) by Eubena Nampitjin.

Eubena Nampitjin
Kinyu (1991)

From my notes at the time (a couple of weeks ago).
Attracted by un-balance. ‘Ribcage’ of white lines. Strength and support. spindly uprights. Sliding top accentuated by clearer lines of yellow and white above.
‘Stop’ of green line at boundary of painting, pushing back. Almost an unfurling lower right, about to stretch up.
Bubbles of form give lightness and a spring to the work.
Then I wrote quite a lot of waffle about cultural appropriateness and appropriation.

The gallery signage gives a little biographical information, plus some standard art-speak description – “… delicate white traceries surrounded by pointillist fields of vivid yellow…”.

There are no great insights here. Not even a minor insight. I worked at giving my full attention. I tried to see what was in front of me. Flop. Frustrating. So this post is a bit of truth in non-advertising.

Another work in the exhibition is by the same artist, with the same title, painted around 16 years later.

Eubena Nampitjin
Kinyu (2007)

Finally some photos from mum’s trip. The colour is wonky, scanned from old prints.

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