Archive for December 2nd, 2019

Incomplete fragments

“To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations”

The quote above is from Emily Dickinson. Or so a number of results from a duckduckgo search tell me. It heads an essay by Mary Ruefle, Lectures I will never give, which appears to be a transcript of a lecture she gave. It seems she didn’t want to be speaking in the lecture hall, and she didn’t want the students to be sitting there listening to her – she thought it would be better if they were all in their own rooms, writing.

Angry and sad, caught for whatever reasons in an unsatisfactory situation, Ruefle sifted through old files “in an effort to accumulate debris” and “came across a few untethered pieces of paper that intrigued” her. The undigested conglomerate of disparate material became the un-lecture. Magical properties in the bezoar?

I haven’t posted much lately, which means a gap in my memory bank. So this is my hairball, presented in an attempt at Ruefle’s structure.

I read Mary Ruefle’s lecture essay in the final days of the Intensive Creative Research program with Ruth Hadlow. Eight of us including Ruth, four sessions each of three days, spread over eight months. Sitting in a circle, or at our tables. Attentively speaking, reading, listening, writing. It kept getting better, we kept getting better, each session. Ruth teaches a process, a model of practice. There are lots of glimpses of it throughout this blog, hints and fragments, or at least of my attempts to live the process. I’m reminded of a performance lecture at AGNSW by Padma Menon – “Exploring Indian classical dance and Hindu-Buddhist sculpture”. As I understand it, Padma’s words, her performance, could only ever point to the philosophy, the approach, the belief, of Bhakthi. Actual personal experience is a key element. I hope I’m not being disrespectful in this comparison, but there seems to be a parallel. Anything I could write about specifics taught by Ruth, and I have copious notes I’m trying to get into some semblance of order, could only point to, only be a shadow of, the doing.

While in Hobart I visited the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

Julie Gough
Head Count

The major temporary exhibition was from Julie Gough – Tense Past (link). Julie Gough is a Tasmanian Aboriginal artist. I’m not certain of the lessons when I was in primary school in the 1960s – it may still have been a story of complete, utter, and deliberate annihilation of the indigenous people on the island. Not true, but “The Truth” (as if there can every be such a singular thing) is still a dark tale.

Research of this colonial history and the impact of colonisation on Tasmania‚Äôs first people is the focus of Gough’s work. She reworks, reconsiders, text from the archives, complex histories, from her perspective, rather than the original colonial perspective of the material. She reads between the lines to show what she thinks is actually happening. The exhibition included works of sculpture, sound and video installations made over a period of more than 20 years, brought together in a conversation. Gough states “you can learn more. Nothing is fixed, frozen or definitive.” We – especially in this context Tasmanians, but all Australians – all have the capacity and responsibility to learn, to try to understand, to work together to face the past in order to move on to a different future.

Ideas around conversation, communication, perhaps miscommunication, recur through the exhibition. There was a constant murmur of voice from the various videos. Text was formed by shadows, stitch, burning… Repetition and reuse of imagery, found objections and borrowings from museum collections, made connections through the space, time, and the ideas.

Also on view was Extinction Studies, a performance by Lucienne Rickard that will continue over twelve months.

Lucienne Rickard
Extinction Studies

Rickard draws recently extinct species… and then erases them. It makes a very powerful as well as beautiful statement – after just a few weeks she had shown over a dozen species, judging from a penciled list at the side. Unfortunately the artist wasn’t there at the time I visited.

Relating it back to my own current explorations, it’s an effective way to move between analytical and material modes. There’s the abstraction of a list, the material representation of the drawing, and then the action, the creation of a visible memory, the making apparent and present the abstract but very real loss.

Anita Larkin tutored a (long) one day workshop “Making Sculptures from Found Objects” for Basketry NSW. Lots of skills, methods, products (the wonders of a lively mind in a hardware store). Unfortunately I was very low on energy, plus felt quite distant from the found materials I’d brought, so no work of mine to show. However, a couple of shots of others’ outcomes, taken from the Basketry facebook page.

The Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art (link)… There’s so much to say about this exhibition that it seems impossible to begin.

There are fragments. In the case of Subconscious of a Monument, earth excavated from underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa, suspended and filling a gallery space to a common level. Then add lighting, most spectacular in Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View. With something that has worked, keep returning, finding new angles, new life, as in Thirty Pieces of Silver. There’s the original form, then photogravure etchings, then a tapestry… The initial strategy of removing and then adding volume is repeated as well. Then there is intense focus on materiality and what is left behind – black laquer residue from cutting records, curls of silver from engraving, deflated balloons. There is violence, actual and implied, mostly with a cartoonish edge. There is wit and cleverness and curiousity and clearly the most amazing ability to engage with people and enthuse them to work with her.

It was in a lecture on Rodin that I first learnt the idea of a “complete fragment”. In a brief recent visit to the Art Gallery of South Australia I had the opportunity to see multiple examples of Rodin’s work. In fact there seemed to be a Rodin in most of the galleries, all supporting themes being explored by the curators. I’ve written about AGSA before (5-May-2013), and the way different objects are juxtaposed to reveal unexpected connections. That visit I was particularly taken by the conversation between The Bowmore Artemis (c. 180 AD) and Buck with cigar by Marc Quinn (2009). Both works are still in the same gallery, but have been moved around and other objects added and removed – breaking that link, it seems to me.

The first “complete fragment” I found was Flying Figure in a space exploring ‘the marvellous’, and was actually on a “waterfall wall” of works which “point to concepts of movement yet appear frozen, like fragments of time”. Signage also referred to Rodin’s belief that a fragment “can convey the complete sensation of motion”.

From memory this next work, The Inner Voice, was in an adjoining gallery, and I didn’t record the theme. Quoting again from the signage: “Rather than pursuing anatomical correctness or finish, Rodin was instead interested in the expressive qualities of form. Here he has distorted the female figure to explore themes of isolation, vulnerability and introspection. The laterally leaning upper body with its head resting on the right shoulder established the beginning of a tranquil, curving rhythm that flows throughout the entire sculpture. Such articulation would have been compromised, for example, by the inclusion of arms and the left knee.”

In a third gallery, sharing space with The Bowmore Artemis and Buck with cigar, was a The Walking Man, study for the torso. Dated 1878, cast in 1979, it was in a cabinet with another torso of similar size, carved in stone in 1931. From my reading (Albert Elsen seems to be the “go to” man), The walking man is a key example of the “complete fragment” philosophy. Head and arms are not included, not required, to convey the movement being explored. It is particularly interesting to see what is effectively a fragment of a complete fragment. It still manages to be full of life, energy, and movement.

In his book Rodin, Elsen claims the truncation was not a simple whim, not indiscriminate. “By reducing the body in this way, Rodin established a new authority of the artist over what had heretofore been considered the sanctity of the human form and the completeness of its external appearance, and gave sculpture a new integrity which … was to influence cubist sculpture. He may have intended to show the body as marvelous and mysterious in every part and at the same time force the viewer’s attention to the sculpture’s execution.” Also
“… what he was doing here with the figure was a precedent for the arbitrary proportioning of parts of the body for aesthetic and expressive reasons… a precedent for establishing criteria and completeness that were based upon the fragment’s self-sufficient expressiveness and the sculpture’s ability to be further curtailed without loss of its potency.” Elsen noted care taken in the carving away of sections, a continuing respect for the integrity of the body. Thinking of this while in the gallery, I was convinced by Elsen’s argument.

More recently, I’ve been reading On Sculpture by Antony Gormley. He points out that a sculpture is “a still, silent object”. Instead of seeing Rodin as offering a new beginning, Gormley states “I admire Rodin, but … we have to ask what he had to do in order to make gesture acceptable. He had to accept the object nature of the work and cut off body parts quite violently… he had to allow it to become an object and wound it, cut it and destroy it”. Gormley claims “a whole trajectory of Western sculpture ends with Rodin” and concludes “Represented movement is a stupid idea for sculpture”. I think there is a deliberate bluntness, even clumsiness, in this sentence.

It seems clear to me that the two sculptors have different goals. Rodin is expressing a movement or emotion, or exploring aesthetically. Gormley is interested in reflexivity, where the viewer becomes aware of their own movement, their own breath, when moving around or through Gormley’s sculptures and installations. Each approach has, in its own way, a kind of spareness, terseness. Just enough, and no more, to achieve objectives. Space – physical, mental, spiritual? – that the viewer must complete. Working at a very different level, this makes me question my recent investigations into “unbalance” – working with mobiles (which of course are actually very carefully balanced), and photographs of piles of crockery about to topple over. I was looking to create sensation in a potential viewer – a catch of breath, perhaps a flicker of foreboding – but it was all very literal. Fulsome. I need to find other ways.

Still at AGSA, some other works that caught my eye.

Hauntingly beautiful work on the wall by Hossein Valamanesh.

It’s made of lotus leaves on gauze, and synthetic polymer paint. The shadow figure writing is a verse by Rumi (1207 – 1273):
I tear my shirt with every breath for the extent of ecstasy and joy of being in love; now he has become all my being, and I am only a shirt.

More fragments in a gallery space filled by Chiharu Shiota – Absence Embodied.

And finally a selfie – this time a reflection – with Lindy Lee, The Life Of Stars.

Lindy Lee
The Life Of Stars

Mary Ruefle does eventually bring herself to give specific advice if you want to be a writer.
When your pencil is dull, sharpen it.
And when your pencil is sharp, use it until it is dull again.

And as for time for other occupations (the Dickinson quote), my years employed as a data analyst have come to somewhat abrupt end, and thus somewhat startled, I am entering into a full-time creative life. If the voice in this post seems rather uneven, it’s because it has been written over a number of weeks while I’m finding my feet.

Finally a maxim from Pitigrilli, quoted by Umberto Eco in “Wilde: Paradox and Aphorism”:
Fragments: a fortunate excuse for writers who cannot put a whole book together.


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December 2019

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