Tuesday, July 29, 2008


'Shepherd with his Dogs', Rudolf Balogh, 1930.
From the current exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery, Foto: Modernity in Central Europe 1918-1945

From the current exhibition at Image-Culte, "three or four things I know about it"

Paul Wright working on sketch model of American Bison Group, from the online exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Small Science of Silence

Spectral Image (Pinhole Photograph, with an inadvertent overlap
due to manual film advance), 2007, JBowring

Aftersilence - like an afterimage, this is a silence which occurs as the impression of something passing. This is most pronounced after a sonic boom, where the ensuing silence is like a negative form of the sound, a ghost. Such a silence is felt when there is a missing presence, where there had previously been a palpable sound, a conversation, its absence is pronounced.

Day's End (Pinhole Photograph), 2007, J Bowring

Muffle - a silence emanating from winter's days. Snow's acoustic insulating properties remove the sound, stifle it, like a sponge. Or in the absorptive capacity of those who listen, with a seemingly limitless capacity, and leak no sound back out. They become a reservoir of silence, secrets steeped in their selves...

Pines (Pin[e]hole photograph), 2007, JBowring

Performance - as in John Cage's 4'33", which orchestrates silence, or more particularly re-tunes the ear to the content of ambient silence. The performers do not play, they are instructed to make no sound with their instruments. Instead, what is heard is the amplification of nothingness, a sublime, luminous, numinous, other. Perhaps these are the sounds of metaphysics itself. Or does heaven really sound like static, as in John Huston's 1979 film Wise Blood, where the snowy television screen is believed to be a real time relay from heaven, passing through the ether and onto the screen.

Clarity (Pinhole Photograph), 2008, JBowring

Vacuum - occurs with low pressure. Atmospherically this occurs when exceedingly low barometric pressure is experienced, a meteorological black hole, which, when passing by, has an odd absence of sound. It even appears to suck it right out of the inside of one's head, out through the ears, in a remarkable reverse acoustic manoeuvre. Those who draw the sound towards them, rather than the more passive muffle, create the silence of the vacuum...


Two Heads (Pinhole Photograph), 2007, JBowring

Cancellation - when two identical sound waves are 180 degrees out of phase with one another a node occurs, a pocket of silence, noise is cancelled. A uniquely serene moment occurs within chaos, a hush. In conversation this occasionally occurs with concordance, a moment of recognition between kindred spirits, when nothing needs to be said, there is a precious silence, a smile.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Drift

Thoughts of lightness, and the melting of solidity into air, are suggestive of a relinquishing of will. Amongst the pieces of praise for WG Sebald's After Nature is one from the Los Angeles Times; it advises that, "Only by suspending readerly willfulness will you be able to float weightless through his writing." Such a directive is simultaneously liberating and vertiginous ... how might it be to float, drift, succumb to the writing. After a life of careful reading, 'close reading', this presents a sudden moment of airborne pleasure, a transport of delight. Bobbing along in the words brings a lightheadedness, a moment of abandon, and, as this same song of praise reports, "We are willing to be carried along in a haze of not quite understanding because Sebald also revels in the pure music of words...." Such imprecision, of eluding, alluding, even eliding, meaning, is welcome, embraced ... Many passages entice, the page corners folded over now, for future imbibing, for moments aloft in a drift of words ...

This is infirmitas, the breaking
of time from day to day
and from hour to hour,
it is rust and fires
and the salt of the planets
darkness even at noon and
luminaries absent from heaven.
From WG Sebald, And If I Remained by the Outermost Sea

Friday, July 18, 2008

All that is solid ...

Days of mid winter. Edges subsumed within ambiguity. The splendid brooding moments of the hills. Interior and exterior speak different languages to one another. Bachelard's "increased intimacy" ... that which comes about when the house is "besieged by winter."
In Antipodean Hyperborea.
Form gives way to fluidity. Mere tonal shifts. Nothing solid, just liquidity. Not the high relief of the mythical bright light of these southern lands. The light that limned the hard-edge school of painting. The light that fooled the first immigrants, their mental datum suddenly askew, as their sense of perspective was gauged from the misty folds of England, Scotland ... where the atmosphere would shorten distances, dampen them like a muffler closes down sound. Those misty lands where the Picturesque stalked every hill and dale, the theatre of landscape, with the coulisse neatly stacked, fading into blue. Lord Lyttelton said, when they reached the top of the Bridle Path, up here, above Christchurch, on the crater rim, that those fond of the Picturesque would find the view out across the sparkling sharp light of the Canterbury Plains, 'exceedlingly repulsive.' That light ... they were lost in that deceptive clear light. They set out to walk to places they believed were near, and find that they were miles out, completely miscalculated within the clarity of the southern sky. But, just now, the bright light is so far away from the enfolded dimness of these days, just a memory of the immediacy of things, searing. Now it's never quite daytime.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lightness and Being

"Innocent but also full of gravitas", wrote a dear friend in response to a recent post. At first his words struck me as irreconcilable. How could it be both? Would it be possible to be at once light and heavy? Rainer Maria Rilke's Evening - sometimes translated as Sunset - tracks such a tension, of a world simultaneously climbing to heaven and sinking to earth, both star and stone. And this lightness, this weightlessness of levitas, is then inseparable from the weightiness of gravitas. Lightness, innocence, carry a burden of being of less consequence than the dark and brooding leaden weight. The ton of feathers is less dense, more vapid, than the ton of lead.

Weightlessness, like fragility, like the glance as opposed to the gaze, presents an alternative way of being - for a moment, for an age. Ignasi de SolĂ -Morales' 'weak architecture' - or fragile architecture - circles such a conundrum. As does Edward Casey's 'glance-world', which stands in distinction to the piercing weightiness of the gaze. These light forms are nimble, and challenge a preoccupation with permanence, intensity, solidity. Even within the idea of memory, lightness pulls against a weighty recognition. The West's predilection for those monuments which seek to endure, to be everlasting, completely miss the point of memory. Instead a moment of gravitas dissolving into levitas, into the ether, might be more true to the passage of time ...

Rainer Maria Rilke, Evening
The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion of what becomes
a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

Evening, St Petersburg, jb

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Voyage through Thresholds

In Voyage Around My Room, Xavier de Maistre succumbs to a reverie on the nature of the soul. He ponders upon Plato’s distinction of the soul as ‘other’, and instead wants to argue the opposite: that is that which he calls the ‘beast’ that is rightly other – it is this which “pesters us in the most distressing manner”. These two entities – beast and soul -- exist in a loose arrangement in de Maistre's estimation. He portrays them as sometimes co-existing, and at other times acting quite independently, a kind of ... open relationship. Sometimes the beast might read alone through a passage, without the soul in attendance, and you “reach the end of the page without understanding or remembering what you have just read; and this is because your soul, having ordered her companion to do the reading in her place, did not inform him that she was about to absent herself briefly, and thus the other continued reading while your soul no longer listened.”

The relationship between the self and its other, between soul and beast, is magnified exponentially when the reading eye travels onwards towards Fernando Pessoa, and his multitude of carefully crafted heteronyms. In his introduction to The Book of Disquiet Richard Zenith describes how, while many authors base their characters upon friends or family members, “Pessoa’s characters were carved out of his own soul...” These separate entities exist to a greater or lesser degree independently of the author – Zenith notes that “Pessoa was the first one to forget Pessoa”. This puts an unusual spin on the Barthesian concept of the ‘death of the author’, wherein the work becomes autonomous once adrift in the world, and beyond the author's influence, and the relationships between the self of the author, the author's creation, and the readers, becomes an 'expanded field' - to use Rosalind Krauss's term - a redefinition or renegotiation of the relationships of things as they drift out of their containers.

Such a multiple existence does not seem so alien, as our being in the world can be far more of a gradient than an abrupt sense of separation, more of a fuzzy mass than a discrete and crisp being. The zones of demarcation, of self and not self, of other, of our beast, our souls, and even such presumed absolutes as our gender, are all constantly in flux. The shift from the physical to the metaphysical, the movement through a threshold, perhaps operates in the same way as quantum particles which migrate at the subatomic level between states, destabilising things at an infinitesimally small scale.

Changes in state occur in a range of domains, dancing between physics and metaphysics, the tricks of light, the movement across gradients, present to absent, sea to land, and day to night, as in Gavin Keeney’s delectable description of evening, where, “Perhaps at no other time is the ever-elusive/allusive thing-in-itself (plus the thing-not-in-itself) revealed and more present (luminous) than in evening; i.e., less atrophied and less specified. If Virgil discovered ‘evening’ (its poetic form), as some say, it was because it is the inherent hour, the time when time shines from within and the passage of moments, specks of time, time’s dust, drips into the mind (a form of metaphysical honey gathered in the extravagant wilderness of evening). The charged expectation of the hour of evening, that pellucid zone between day and night, is the ultimate passageway to the interior of things.” (Moravian Shadows, Landscape Review, 8(2).)

Boundaries, thresholds, limens, in-between places, states, selves, souls, are not sudden shifts, but entire realms in themselves. A line is a map, a phenomenological sphere, fluid and filled with the poetry of ambience. Gaston Bachelard in The Poetics of Space describes how these spaces of in-between echo the “threshold of being”. Thresholds are passages with their own qualities of space. The condition of thresholdness can be conceived as an area of interesse. Heidegger in his Discourse on Thinking described interesse as being with and between things, with the connotation of being ‘interesting.’

Movement from one’s self or selves to the world beyond, from the beast to the soul, from the interior of architecture to the exterior of landscape, from the city to the countryside, from this world to some other perfect world beyond the edge of the sky, are all gradients, journeys. Turning again to Moravian Shadows, to a passage which identifies one particular condition of liminality, but one which also has metaphoric connotations, of the self-similarity of liminal conditions across the spectrum of being, from self, to dwelling, to the scale of the settlement and city, “The portico and the loggia are transitional, liminal places (noetic, figurative gestures) that invite both assignation and assassination. There is the dangerous passage from interior to exterior, or vice versa, in the typological place of exchange, and the strategic transfer of one condition to another.”

Searching for archetypes, crossing the threshold
to find Platonic perfection beyond,
15th Century German book

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

Sky / Space

Living on a volcano (extinct) shapes a spatial sensibility. The edge, the crater rim, forms a warped horizon, and the volumes and voids formed by the massing of the volcano are unlike those of hills made by other means. On the other side from here, inside the crater, it's steeply inclined, and the volume almost cylindrical. Yet, here, on the flanks, there's a geomorphological grace, the flowing lava's angle of repose still in evidence after ages have passed. Most beautiful is the sky, the hemisphere that forms between volcano and alps, a celestial wunderkammer, an eternal theatre of light, and darkness, the vaulting enhanced by the crater rim's proximity. The palpable craggy edge tethering the sky at the corners. The Southern Cross flies like a kite at night, rearing up above the rim it seems to soar, then pitch, like a kite diving to the earth, with its tetrad form held taut by the stars at each corner. At the other end of the sky, the Alps end, at this time of the year, Matariki appears. The signal of the Maori new year, and one of the constellations of the southern sky which is shared with the northern sky, as it is also the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters. Being in the northern sky means that it was known by the earliest of astronomers, the ancients, and entwined in myth. The Southern Cross has always been hidden away in these southern skies, and so it is a "modern constellation", one of those terms which reinforce the arrogance of the northern hemisphere as self-declared categorisers of all that comes to pass. The Southern Cross has, of course, always been here, arcing its way across the night sky, like a kite, above the crater rim.

One place that has a great magnetism is James Turrell's Roden Crater, and it often comes to mind while watching the stars dance. Turrell searched for the perfect crater, flying back and forth across North America, until he found Roden. And the lengthy project of building his astronomical observatory began. In a documentary on the project his dedication to the project radiates with passion, obsession, possession. Costing him marriages, relationships, he has continued to build the observatory forms into the crater, places that will mark remarkable astronomical events, and heighten the perception of the earth's rotation. The edge of the crater has been formed into a perfect horizon, with the sky vault sitting above, like the most perfect one-to-one scale planetarium, in the middle of the Arizona desert. The effect of the crater edge on the sky is that, lying on one's back, it no longer appears that the stars are rising and setting, but that the earth is moving, rotating, through the stars. The space of the sky becomes that which the earth turns within. Other projects of Turrell's explore this threshold connection between our seeming fixity on the earth, and that which moves beyond, as in his Sky Space at Kielder in Scotland ...