J M W Turner, Shade and Darkness: Evening of the Deluge, 1856
Monday, June 30, 2008
J M W Turner, Shade and Darkness: Evening of the Deluge, 1856
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Exhuming words from the past ...
Knots are thickenings, fastenings, aides-memoire. A knot is a hard part in an otherwise soft material, a concentration, a gnarly bit. A knot can join two things, be a sign of unity: tying the knot. Knots can give strength, hold something in, keep it in place. A knot in a handkerchief is a reminder of something, and has come to symbolise the act of remembering. Knots vary greatly in their symbolism, as anyone who has read Proulx's The Shipping News will testify. Referring to the Ashley Book of Knots, the author uses the knot descriptions to enrich the narrative. Knots are decorative, with entire textiles worked in knots through the art of macramé. Knots are also used in orientation, as in the knotted navigational charts of Pacific Islanders, where knots indicate seamarks and other clues to wayfinding.
Knots are tricky things, they confound and perplex ...
The correct tying of a knot is critical to its efficacy. Any change in direction might mean disaster: "In a knot of eight crossings, which is about the average-size knot, there are 256 different 'over-and-under' arrangements possible.... Make only one change in the 'over and under' sequence and either an entirely different knot is made or no knot at all may result." (The Ashley Book of Knots in Proulx 1993). Orientation is important in monuments too ... the monument to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, leader of the first British expedition to the South Pole, contrasts with the other figurative statues in Christchurch, in that it is pointing northwards. This means the light falls directly onto the face of the statue (the sun shines from the north in the Southern Hemisphere), and the play of chiaroscuro is not as great as on those statues which face east or west. However, the orientation of Scott is highly symbolic and critical to the monument's effectiveness. Scott and his companions perished on their homeward journey, heading north. The Scott memorial immortalises this unfinished northward journey, and underscores the significance of the orientation of monuments.
And so on, where the analogy of the knot is central, driving a process of divining and designing ...
The Shipping News' knots, and The Bird Artist's birds, both evoke that melancholy longing ... the elusive completion of a collection, yet the not wanting to. Proulx's Quoyle and Norman's Fabian Vas stand nearly a century apart, yet both are within a certain timelessness, amongs the threads and snags of what time is, what place is, or to cite Kevin Lynch's now cliched title 'what time is this place?" Resonances ricochet back and forth, in that ambience of place, in the concern with the thingness of things, of knots, of birds, of drawing - ink, paper, paint, of Quoyle writing for the newspaper the Gammy Bird. Time compresses into a mere wisp, and turns upon itself...
Friday, June 27, 2008
Suddenly, with an irrepressible surge of ego, of desire, of wild awful need, Ovid believes the O is for him. Immaculate, principal, ovate letter! Yes, it is – it is a sign – showing that he shall be fixed in the sky as he so awfully longs to be: borne aloft, transfigured, forever.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Another Eco extract, this one from Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (describing the devil...): He is a rather scrawny man, not very tall and even shorter than I am, wearing a casual beret pulled down over on ear, while on the other side reddish hair sprouts from his temple. He has reddish eyelashes, flushed eyes, and an ashen face, and the tip of his nose curves downwards a little. Over a stitched shirt with diagonal stripes he wears a check jacket, with sleeves that are too short, from which stubby-fingered hands emerge. His trousers are too tight and his shoes so beaten up that they can no longer be cleaned. A pimp, a parasite, with the voice of a theatre actor.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Patrick Wright strolls across my vision, bearing his A Journey Through Ruins, where he 'accumulates' history as a montage. In an interview, for the Strangely Familiar group's book The Unknown City, Wright conveyed his task of tacking between the real and the not so real, "It is quite true that I combined objective description with occasional disappearances into rhetoric and even fiction. I never faked the archive, but I did sometimes allow my perceptions to override reality or to twist it a bit. I would justify this on several grounds. To begin with, it is a way of saying that this street, in this incarnation, doesn't exist except as I put it there. ... Obviously, you can't fix a street. The minute you've finished it it's gone, although actually it's you that's gone, not it."
It is a cliché to call history a palimpsest, yet it remains an apposite term, evoking the obscuring and revealing that filters the reality of the past. The flatbed, as in the work of Robert Rauschenberg (who died last month), is a palimpsest of sorts, an accumulative surface, where things collect. The flatbed enlisted the idea of the printing press of that name, where the plate was wound through the press, squashing and compressing the gathered fragments together, changing their form, and their relationship to the other collected pieces. And the filmic sense of montage, of cross cutting, jump cutting, and the like, plays the shell game too, of undoing certainty, of leaving lingering doubt, of just where that pea is now.
The places where memories inhere vibrate with potential, whether fictional or factual, or somewhere in between. Pierre Nora's magisterial study of the landscape of France, the lieux de mémoire, maps the palimpsestuous terrain, of remembered and misremembered sites. Nora moved from the idea of milieux to lieux to mark the shift from a shared, collectivity of memory sites, to the more particular, place-centred sites. He began his seven volume Les Lieux de Mémoire in 1984, and the project took eight years to complete. A year before this, in 1983, Benedict Anderson had written Imagined Communities (a new edition of which has recently been produced with an intriguing retrospective essay by Anderson in which he carries out an acrobatic self-critique ... a fascinating reflection on the effect an author can have on the trajectory of thinking), and Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger published their The Invention of Tradition, another insightful work, which charges straight to the wavering line between fact and fiction. While all of the above works have, in turn, been subjected to extensive critique, their important contribution lies in their agitation of the taken-for-granted associations between history and story telling, and the untying of the neat knots of the past...
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Squint Opera, St Paul's
Gustave Doré, 1872, The New Zealander
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The mnemon epitomised the Greek's memory powers, as someone practised in the art of memory, remembering without need to resort to recording in any way. Mnemons worked in the courts, as recollectors of proceedings, writing nothing down, versed in the skills of total recall. Beyond the courts, they were the attendants of mythical figures, acting as their supplementary memory banks.
Marian Maguire, 2002, Achilles carries Penthesilea through Doubtful Sound (Auckland City Art Gallery)
Following along behind Achilles was, therefore, a mnemon, who had intricate knowledge of the complex tapestry of the hero's life. As a mnemic prosthesis, the attendant issued reminders of the potential consequences of certain actions. For example, a mnemon was appointed to remind Achilles not to kill a son of Apollo, as if he did so he would in turn be killed. This particular mnemonic act was flawed, with the reminder not taking place as required, and the mnemon's life taken instead as a consequence.
Epic works such as the Iliad were recited by the mnemons, whose memory training prepared them for their role as cultural repositories, as archives of myth and lore. And in Maori waiata the connections to a mythical past, as well as the navigational routes to areas of harvest, places of pounamu, the loci of the metaphysical moments, were recalled and activated in song, in incantation. Like the phenomenon of the mnemon, the remembering was alive in the ether, not frozen on the page or in a vitrine.
Marian Maguire, 2005, A New Zealander by Parkinson and Ajax by Exekias play draughts (Auckland City Art Gallery)
The role of rememberer, whether attending to the broad sweep of history or the particular history of one's assigned mythical hero, is at a point of creative fusion. Insistently pushing upon memory is forgetting, and the mnemon may draw a veil over a forgotten moment by means of a crafted apparent truth. And at this point, history and story telling coalesce, myth and truth ebb and flow, and the mnemon moves elusively through the labyrinth of memory ...
"...reality is a shell game. Our writing should be too..."
Michael Taussig (2006) Walter Benjamin's Grave
(For more of Marian Maguire's work, see http://www.papergrahica.co.nz/)
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008
Writing is like the drug I abhor and keep taking, the addiction I despise and depend on. There are necessary poisons, and some are extremely subtle, composed of ingredients from the soul, herbs collected among the ruins of dreams, black poppies found next to the graves of our intentions, the long leaves of obscene trees whose branches sway on the echoing banks of the soul’s infernal rivers.
The static motion of the trees; the troubled quiet of the fountains; the indefinable breathing of the sap's deep pulsing; the slow arrival of dusk, which seems not to fall over things but to come from inside them and to reach its spiritually kindred hand up to that distant sorrow (so close to our soul) of the heavens' lofty silence; the steady and futile falling of leaves, drops of estrangement in which the landscape comes to exist only in our hearing, and it becomes sad in us like a remembered homeland - all of this girded us uncertainly, like a belt coming undone.
Friday, June 6, 2008
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Then, another place of rippling surfaces, the Bilbao Guggenheim, Gehry's silvery sculpture. I used to think the Bilbao Effect was like Stendhal Syndrome, which could be a motif for this linear tour ...
A few more things along the line ... such as the homage site for the Nebra Sky Disk, as in the post prior to this one, the Nebra Ark ...
And ultimately ending with Peter Eisenman, an echo of the line's beginning, a site which features large on my field of internal vision, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, a fitting point of punctuation, a sense of an eternal ending ....
And, so, this is the plan for next year, or something like this ... all donations gratefully received ...