September 23, 2016

Desktop Universe


In my previous blogpost, I commented on the debate between formal and conceptual art. The crux of my argument was a defense of the conceptual underpinnings of formalism is now well supported by neuroscience but not very well appreciated by the art world. What obstructs this appreciation are the efforts undertaken by Duchamp in establishing conceptual art and his disparagement of painting as merely retinal art.

Now, I must emphasize at this point is that I appreciate conceptual art in all of its iterations and I think as many of us do that Marcel Duchamp is rightfully regarded as a giant of art history. For example, I think that the collection of minimal and conceptual art at DIA Beacon clearly shows how the artists of that generation anticipated the later emergence of the information age by decades in advance. All arguments require a tincture of artifice, even Picasso famously said that "Art is a lie that reveals the truth." Duchamp was using artifice to advance the popular recognition of conceptual art. What I am saying here is that we have gone well beyond making a fetish of this aspect of art history. We are so fundamentally formatted by its assumptions that we have become blind to its parameters.

What had prepared me to question the divinity of Duchamp was my reading of E.H. Gombrich's Art and Illusion and Rudolf Arnheim's Art and Visual Perception in between my years between undergraduate and graduate school. The simple point driven home by Gombrich and Arnheim is that sight is not merely a retinal phenomena but a cerebral one. Indeed, the retinal can be considered an extension of cerebral architecture, as some neural processing is already underway before signals enter the optic nerve.

The video above is a recent reinforcement of this idea, augmented with a vision of human perception of reality as one mediated by something resembling a GUI, the graphical user interface that we all know as a computer virtual desktop. We should be wary of another clockwork universe. Humanity always sees the world according to the technological fashion of the day. Donald Hoffman points past these representations toward something else, trying to lift the seemingly impossible veil to see reality as it is (shades of Kantian Noumena!). I think that Hoffman is pointing in the same direction that Roger Penrose was looking -towards this ultimate reality- and you can check out Penrose's fascinating presentation in this blogpost from November 23, 2014.

Posted by Dennis at 11:58 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2016

Review Panel

Here in NYC, the Fall season started with ArtCritical's Review Panel, hosted by David Cohen at the Brooklyn Public Library. Here are the links to the shows under review, check them out and you can coordinate what you think with my notes from the night's conversation:
Eve Aschheim: Drawings and Photograms at Lori Bookstein Fine Art
The Cithara and the Aulos: Lauren Clay BAM< Dorothy W. Levit Lobby, Brooklyn
Fly Away: Rashid Johnson at Hauser & Wirth
A.L. Steiner: 30 Days of Mo:)rning at Koenig & Clinton Gallery

(A few afterthoughts of my own follow below the fold.)
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At first I thought the grouping of shows for review seemed random, but midway into the Review Panel, I realized that David Cohen might have deliberately chosen two groups to compare and contrast each other. Unfortunately, there was precious little reflection in the conversation that seized upon this apparent opportunity. Two of the exhibits were conceptual, the other two were formal. Although the former category is "younger" than the latter, both have long been digested by our art world. Neither can be now considered to be avant-garde... but then these days folks in our art world are fond of thinking that even the avant-garde itself no longer exists.

The first two shows under discussion came pre-packed with conceptual content. Race. Consumerism. Scatology. Ecology. Trans-cultural migration. Anti-Capitalism. The artist serves up the signifiers and the audience picks them up and the discussion is pre-loaded. Off to the races we go.

The second two shows under review are formal. Most of us in the art world tend to think that art like this is bereft of conceptual content... but is this really true? I think that all art is conceptual, the difference is whether it is explicit or implicit. Every formal act has precedence, every formal execution has a chance of breaking precedence. The bedrock of art history is set in the human mind and visual perception, the elementary proof of which can be found in the ur-texts of Gombrich or Arnheim. Visual perception is replete with real conceptuality.

[An important note: This is not to say that all art and especially "formal art" is automatically interesting, just as not every conceptual arrangement is automatically interesting. I think that the two formal shows, Aschheim and Clay are poor protagonists for this discussion. What I am discussing here are the broad categories of formalism and conceptualism.]

The race track of thinking in "conceptual art" is served up front, pre-designed for our obedience. Stay in your lane. The latter, "merely formal" art work requires the viewer to construct our own track of thinking. Nowadays, we automatically assume that conceptual art is intelligent... but I am suggesting a heresy: that it has evolved into something that is less intelligent.

For example, I recently visited the opening of Shadi Habib Allah at Reena Spaulings. What we see there in exhibit is 1) an invasive species of plant called kudzu, 2)an audio recording of a scooter accelerating and decelerating, 3) shabby Judd-like plywood sculptures meant (yet failing) to be functional as seating, 4) touch sensitive Fuji paper meant to be drawn upon by the crawling vines of the invasive plant. What of this are we as an audience to appreciate? We are obliged to savor the interlocking conceptual categories like so much plumbing. Like any plumbing system, the formal attributes are beside the point. In the intellectual plumbing of our art world, formal attributes are to be treated with disdain, this being a bonus point of intelligence, a signal of virtue. Our thoughts are tasked to flow within the piping, any leak is an alarming indication of failure.

"Formal" art requires hard work of an audience to construct their own race tracks of thought. Think of ""Formal Art" as the "Slow Food" versus the "Fast Food" of "Conceptual Art".

(Now that my scare quotes have run amok, time to close these notes!)

Posted by Dennis at 12:49 PM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2016

quinto piño

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2016
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81x122cm

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Posted by Dennis at 6:37 PM | Comments (0)

Años de Gloria

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Años de Gloria
2016
#530
120x90cm

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Posted by Dennis at 6:29 PM | Comments (0)

Vecinos

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A nice photo of the afternoon when Stephanie and I hung out with three of our neighbors on Sant Telm, Tossa de Mar, Spain. Left to Right: Stephanie, Victoria, Carmen and Teresita.

Posted by Dennis at 6:19 PM | Comments (0)

Language Lessons

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Posted by Dennis at 6:41 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2016

La presa

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La presa
2016
#529
170x153cm

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Posted by Dennis at 4:39 PM | Comments (0)

Lorenzo

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Lorenzo
2016
#528
200x150cm

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Posted by Dennis at 4:24 PM | Comments (0)

Summer Music 2016.

Every summer here in Spain is marked by some signature song, usually Pop. Over the recent years, from my perspective, there has been less and less charisma in the Pop music world. The summer music track seems to have dried out.(*an exculpatory note below the fold) Whether this is a broader cultural problem, I'll leave for another blog post.

What I did notice, was a reverberation of music from Spain's past. Here's a short list:

Lluis Llach

Many of my friends here in Catalunya know Lluis Llach down to the lyric. All are patriotic Catalans and others at varying distances to Spain. At the farthest distance are the Independistas, the oldest of whom are quick to recount the Franco years when their education was regimented and Catalan culture was prohibited to the extreme. LLach's poetry is anchored in a resistance to tyranny and therefore his art is anchored in the hearts of a many Catalan. Most everyone I've met here knows the lyrics to his signature song "L'Estaca" by heart, a call to pull together to achieve freedom.

Lluis Llach Foundation
Lluis Llach in Wikipedia
Lyrics in English to the "The Stake" (L'Estaca) here.

Joan Manuel Serrat

Another politically outspoken artist, albeit perhaps a bit softer in tone compared to LLach, Serrat was once a political exile for three years in Latin America for being so outspoken about Franco Spain. Here is a broad summary from Wikipedia:

His work is influenced by other poets like Mario Benedetti , Antonio Machado , Miguel Hernandez , Rafael Alberti , Federico García Lorca , Pablo Neruda , Joan Salvat-Papasseit and Leon Felipe among others; as well as various genres such as folklore Catalan, the Spanish couplet , the tango , the bolero and the popular music of Latin America...

Alan Lomax

A Yanqui, yes. Friends from Asturias told me about him, an effort I believe to demonstrate with an appreciation of the "España profunda". Lomax was a travelling American who would produce a huge recording device to capture music during his travels. Better, here is a Wikipedia summary:

Alan Lomax (January 31, 1915 - July 19, 2002) was an American field collector of folk music of the 20th century. He was also a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, archivist, writer, scholar, political activist, oral historian, and film-maker. Lomax produced recordings, concerts, and radio shows in the US and in England, which played an important role in both the American and British folk revivals of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.

*The exculpatory note: My wife might disagree with me...

Posted by Dennis at 2:34 PM | Comments (0)

Cáscara de Nuez

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Cáscara de Nuez
2016
#527
80x73.5cm

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Posted by Dennis at 2:11 PM | Comments (0)

Rayas y Estrellas

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1- I've been masking in order to reveal.

2- What I want to reveal or make more vivid is facture. Facture is the quality of handling of the paint.

3- Dispersed forms, as in that of a silhouette or photographic images in extreme contrast, also disperse the impact of the facture. Whole forms seem to work the best. Therefore, the asterisks of the past year.

4- My ship can only maintain course for so long until the need to tack compels a change of course. Variations function as an emptying out of the sac. A tack refills the sac.

5- These variations are unto exhaustion.

Posted by Dennis at 2:09 PM | Comments (0)

September 9, 2016

Una Cadena (sobre poder)

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A chain, una cadena.

(I was bearing in mind the thought that contemporary philosophy has civilization stuck in a cul de sac of power. When Truth is gone, power is all that remains.)

Why We're POST-FACT by Peter Pomerantsev

This equaling out of truth and falsehood is both informed by and takes advantage of an all-permeating late post-modernism and relativism, which has trickled down over the past thirty years from academia to the media and then everywhere else. This school of thought has taken Nietzsche's maxim, there are no facts, only interpretations, to mean that every version of events is just another narrative, where lies can be excused as 'an alternative point of view' or 'an opinion', because 'it's all relative' and 'everyone has their own truth' (and on the internet they really do).

Maurizio Ferraris, one of the founders of the New Realism movement and one of postmodernism's most persuasive critics, argues that we are seeing the culmination of over two centuries of thinking. The Enlightenment's original motive was to make analysis of the world possible by tearing the right to define reality away from divine authority to individual reason. Descartes' 'I think therefore I am' moved the seat of knowledge into the human mind. But if the only thing you can know is your mind, then, as Schopenhauer put it, 'the world is my representation'. In the late twentieth century postmodernists went further, claiming that there is 'nothing outside the text', and that all our ideas about the world are inferred from the power models enforced upon us. This has led to a syllogism which Ferraris sums up as: 'all reality is constructed by knowledge, knowledge is constructed by power, and ergo all reality is constructed by power. Thus . . . reality turns out to be a construction of power, which makes it both detestable (if by "power" we mean the Power that dominates us) and malleable (if by "power" we mean "in our power").'

Post-modernism first positioned itself as emancipatory, a way to free people from the oppressive narratives they had been subjected to. But, as Ferraris points out, 'the advent of media populism provided the example of a farewell to reality that was not at all emancipatory'. If reality is endlessly malleable, then ...

I then searched for Ferraris...

The turning point via Wikipedia:

At the end of the eighties, Ferraris developed an articulated critique of Heidegger and Gadamer's tradition (see, in particular, Cronistoria di una svolta, the 1990 afterword to Heidegger's conference "The Turn"), which makes use of post-structuralism to challenge the romantic and idealistic legacy affecting such tradition. The conclusion of this critical path led the philosopher to the reconsideration of the relationship between the spirit and the letter as well as to a reversal of their traditional opposition. Oftentimes, both philosophers and ordinary people despise the letter (the rules and constraints instituted through documents and inscriptions of various kinds) and set the spirit (i.e. thought and will) above it, recognizing the creative freedom of the latter as opposed to the former. For Ferraris, it is the letter that precedes and founds the spirit. Thus occurred the transition to the second phase of the thought of the Italian philosopher.

Ferraris abandoned hermeneutic relativism and Derridean deconstruction to embrace a form of realistic objectivism according to which "objectivity and reality, considered by radical hermeneutics as principles of violence and abuse, are in fact - and precisely because of the contraposition between spirit and letter mentioned above - the only protection against arbitrariness". This principle, which applies to morals, is based on the acknowledgement of a sphere of reality that is independent of interpretations (see, in particular, L'ermeneutica, 1998). The external world, recognized as unamendable, and the relationship between conceptual schemes and sensory experience (aesthetics, restored to its etymological meaning of "science of sensory perception", acquires a primary significance - see, in particular, Analogon rationis (1994 ), Estetica (1996, with other authors), L'immaginazione (1996), Experimentelle Ästhetik (2001) and Estetica razionale (1997)) are the dominant themes of the second phase of Ferraris' thought, which involves a re-reading of Kant through the naive physics of the perceptologist Paolo Bozzi (see Il mondo esterno (2001) and Goodbye Kant!(2004, forthcoming for SUNY Press)). Ferraris' "critical ontology" recognizes the world of everyday life as largely impenetrable compared to conceptual schemes....

...New Realism presents itself primarily as a negative realism: the resistance that the outside world opposes to our conceptual schemes should not be seen as a failure, but as a resource - New Realism presents itself primarily as a negative realism: the resistance that the outside world opposes to our conceptual schemes should not be seen as a failure, but as a resource - a proof of the existence of an independent world. If this is the case, however, this negative realism turns into a positive realism: in resisting us reality does not merely set a limit we cannot trespass, but it also offers opportunities and resources. This explains how, in the natural world, different life-forms can interact in the same environment without sharing any conceptual scheme and how, in the social world, human intentions and behaviors are made possible by a reality that is first given, and that only at a later time may be interpreted and, if necessary, transformed. New Realism presents itself primarily as a negative realism: the resistance that the outside world opposes to our conceptual schemes should not be seen as a failure, but as a resource - a proof of the existence of an independent world. If this is the case, however, this negative realism turns into a positive realism: in resisting us reality does not merely set a limit we cannot trespass, but it also offers opportunities and resources. This explains how, in the natural world, different life-forms can interact in the same environment without sharing any conceptual scheme and how, in the social world, human intentions and behaviors are made possible by a reality that is first given, and that only at a later time may be interpreted and, if necessary, transformed. Now that the season of postmodernism has died out, New Realism expresses the widespread need for renewal in extra-disciplinary areas such as architecture, literature, pedagogy and medicine.

(And what about art? Unless it is assumed to be encompassed by architecture, which is an idea natural to architects.)

Link follows link, a chain. Una cadena.

An Introduction to Introduction to New Realism:

Fintan Neylan explains the realism Maurizio Ferraris introduces in his Introduction.

Negativity

Ferraris first sets out a number of elements of New Realism, all of which are inspired by the fact that it is a "critique of constructivism" (p.10). Constructivism denies the reality of anything independent of the human mind or culture, because it holds that all knowledge ultimately has a subjective or intersubjective origin. Ferraris sees constructivism as the result of the modern period's uncertainty concerning the world perceived through the senses, so that it sees its task as being to "re-found, through construction, a world that no longer has stability" (p.26). In contrast, New Realism aims to be a "return to perception" (p.8) and engages in a "relaunch of ontology as the science of being and of the multiplicity of objects" (pp.8-9). (Ontology is the study of the types of things that exist.) These elements are framed against what Ferraris sees as the prevailing tendencies in contemporary thought, which he explores in the first section of the book, 'Negativity'.

At the centre of 'Negativity' are two philosophical figures, Foukant and Deskant. These are not historical philosophers, but rather amalgamations of viewpoints which cluster around Descartes, Kant, and Foucault (or, more precisely, the reception of their ideas). In essence, both Foukant and Deskant serve as Ferraris's intellectual foils.

Foukant is a postmodernist, and is the outcome of fusing the subject, or the representing 'I' (via Kant), with an ontology based on power relations (via Foucault). Foukant's position proceeds from this syllogism: "Reality is constructed by knowledge, knowledge is constructed by power, and ergo reality is constructed by power" (p.24). The problem with this is that Foukant thereby locks himself out of being able to discuss a mind-independent reality, in part because he believes knowledge of reality is a social construction. In itself, this would be an unremarkable form of idealism, but it does not stop there. Not only is all knowledge socially constructed, but, in this position, knowledge is always compromised politically, for "behind any form of knowledge there hides a power" (p.25). So on Foukant's account, when we happen upon knowledge which claims to refer to a mind-independent reality, what is really going on is only an exertion of power by reigning forces.

This suspicion of knowledge is not limited to postmodernity; indeed, it goes back centuries. Ferraris claims it has its origins in a much older set of philosophical tendencies, which he collects under the figure of Deskant (ie Descartes + Kant). Deskant's thinking combines the Cartesian subject, who is isolated from the physical world, with the Kantian subject, who frames the world but is not a part of it. Deskant's belief is that "our conceptual schemes and perceptual apparatuses play a role in the constitution of reality" (p.26). This is in response to the uncertainty of the world opened up by early modern scepticism, which generated the idea that the structure of the world people see only comes through the subject: that it is what we ourselves have put into the world via our conceptual apparati, and so not present in reality itself. For this reason, the emergence of Deskant marks the point where conceptual knowledge trumps knowledge through the senses. There is a trade-off here: to elevate conceptuality, as Kant does with his 'pure concepts of the understanding', shields one against uncertainty, but at the price of there being "no longer any difference between the fact that there is an object X and the fact that we know the object X" (p.27). The trouble with Deskant and Foukant is that, in this absconding from dealing with reality in itself, they cannot but conflate of the knowledge of an entity with the entity itself. Thus we enter an age where it is asked "not how things are in themselves, but how they should be made in order to be known by us" (p.26). Ferraris calls this collapse of ontology into epistemology the "fallacy of being-knowledge" (p.24).

Positivity

Having charted the various vestiges of 'Negativity', in the next section, 'Positivity', Ferraris turns to his own position:

"if the realist is the one who claims that there are parts of the world that are not dependent on the subjects, the new realist asserts something more challenging. Not only are there large parts of the world independent of the cogito [the thinking subject], but those parts are inherently structured, and thus orientate the behaviour and thought of humans as well as animals" (p.37).

Ferraris's move here is twofold. He first agrees with Foukant and Deskant that knowledge is a human construction, but rejects their identification of knowledge of the world with the world itself. He claims knowledge may still point to an independent reality which is inherently structured. There is not only the structure of the knowledge we have of the world (i.e. the conceptual schemes we have developed, which he calls "epistemological reality") but also the actual structures of the world, whether perceived or not ("ontological reality") (p.41). Thus his account presents the reader with two strands of reality, or, as he puts it "two layers of reality that fade into each other"

(Emphasis Mine.)

Posted by Dennis at 2:19 PM | Comments (0)

La Vanguardia / Juan Bufill

Crawling out of my interiority now at the end of summer, I'm making up some ground now with images of the installation and a great review from Juan Bufill. I'll attach a translation below the fold.

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My translation with the aid of Google Translate:

Dennis Hollingsworth is an excellent American painter who perhaps is fed up of explaining his birth by chance in Madrid, a fact as testified on his resume, affirming a falsehood that conceals perhaps a more authentic reality: it is said that He born in his true country, U.S. This is similar to Gino Rubert, an artist born in Mexico, but grew up in Barcelona. The truth is that the links with the Iberian mainland keeps Hollingsworth connected not in Madrid, but with Catalunya, where for years he often lives and works during the summer season.

From a historical perspective, Dennis Hollingsworth (1956) can be placed in the framework of a new American expressionism. This means a renewal of the approaches as developed by some painters of previous generations, such as Mark Tobey, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, among others. It is therefore a example of abstract painting 21st century, which links to and extends the program of modernity by establishing new forms of expression. Moreover, it is a work that transcends the merely aesthetic, it is fully connected with reality, with immediacy of life which can also be sexual-and order or disorder which can be cosmic, linking with the work of Joan Miró. Hollingsworth's connections with Catalunya are also vital, and much of its landscape can be recognized in his paintings, elements that evoke the natural world specific to it, especially the submariner world of this part of the Mediterranean that as he encounters every summer in the Costa Brava. Characteristic of his work are elements that evoke the shape of sea urchins, that proliferate within the two-dimensional canvases in contradiction to the usual conventions of painting, incorporating volumes of oil.

This time, a new motive proliferates: the asterisk, both a signal and a cosmic organic shape. The painting of Hollingsworth often refers simultaneously to livable reality and the plastic materiality of language.

Miguel Marcos Gallery. Jonqueres, 10. Until 29 July.


Posted by Dennis at 12:30 PM | Comments (0)

September 6, 2016

XOXA

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XOXA
2016
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120x90cm
Oil on Canvas

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Posted by Dennis at 7:57 PM | Comments (1)

Language Lessons

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Posted by Dennis at 7:52 PM | Comments (1)

XOXA

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Talking to friends here about the history of Tossa, I was told of a particular character by the name of Xoxa (pronounced Shosha, the x can be used as an sh or ch in various ways). Xoxa was a young man during the years when Tossa was marked by the making of the movie Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, featuring Ava Gardner and James Mason. It was the first Hollywood movie shot in Spain during the Franco era. Frank Sinatra hung around the set when he was swooning for Ava. For years afterwards, Tossa changed from a fishing village into a tourist destination, one that benefitted from the panache that resulted from the making of that movie.

Xoxa, as I understand the story, was a local fisherman who stepped into the character afforded by the new paradigm in the transformed village. He was a dandy, dressing specifically as such, sporting a pencil thin mustache, hair slicked back, sashaying with style. A dancer. The life of the party. He stood out.

When we first arrived in Tossa, there lived another such character from a subsequent generation. His name was Fararón (Pharaoh, in english), and he was a headline flamenco dancer at a local club. A small man with a harmlessly huge ego. He dressed as his character dictated, pressed open collar white shirt, the top buttons undone, hair combed back, shining with oil, quick to clap his hands in the gypsy manner with a raconteur smile cocked and ready to go. This character type seems to be evergreen.

Since we live in a house that used to be a cherished local bar called Marcelino back in the 50's and 60's, I was excited to learn that someone in town had an archive of photos of the bar at that time. So far, I am only able to show you one photo that the gentleman had ready in his cell phone. I snapped my pic from his phone from mine, the one illustrating this blogpost. Showing the picture to local friends, I was able to get the names of the people in the photograph, rescuing identities at the edge of historical oblivion. Lo and behold, one of them happened to be Xoxa!

It's hard to tell from the photograph, but Xoxa seems to be sporting a sailor's cap. His apron unstrung from his neck, he was cooking for his pals. Later in his years, victim of the good life of food and drink, he is outgrowing his once tailored shirt. Buttons straining. An early iteration of the man-purse hanging from his shoulder. Short pants and Mallorca sandals.

They were showcasing a painting in tribute to Xoxa, the painter was Joan Carbonell. The painting celebrates Xoxa as the authentic bohemian in what looks like an image also of a pirate. The painting doesn't look out of place in the fashion of today's contemporary art. Splashing paint. Impulsive notation. Insouciant representation. Looking at the photo, I think of the generations of artists who had lived in this village over the decades, good and bad. The best would be André Masson and George Bataille, maybe Chagall. There were very good artists nearly lost to history such as Georges Kars. Nearly lost to history, kind of like Xoxa. There are others, a multitude further down the scale. Perhaps Carbonell is one of them?

Posted by Dennis at 7:37 PM | Comments (0)

September 4, 2016

Language Lessons

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Posted by Dennis at 11:01 PM | Comments (1)

Routines


Overall Routine in the USA:

1) Make something (art). Usually, a painting.
2) See friends, see art.
3) Repeat 1 & 2.

Overall Routine in Spain/Catalunya:
1) Make something (art). Usually, a painting.

Awake late, around noon.
Coffee, breakfast.
Watch Torres en la Cocina on TV1.
Take care of have-to-do's or get into the studio.
Bite to eat in the afternoon, evening.
Work overnight, going to bed near sunrise.
Repeat as necessary.

2) See friends, usually highjinks (beach/dinner/parties), lots of drinking, up all night near to sunrise.
3) Repeat 1 & 2.

The Gemelos Torres (Torres Twins) are wonderful. My wife and I have been following them since their earlier incarnation in Cocina 2, a fabulous program in which the twins source food in the many regions of Spain and have a cook off duel. That earlier show was so great, we had to adjust to their new stationary kitchen format. They've long been on their footing with their new show and aspects of the Cocina 2 duelo cook-off shine through. Food and culture are fused, and their program is a particularly enlightening window into what Spain is all about. Their chemistry is charming, mixing the personal and professional as only the Spanish do. [I pause... what other countries/cultures are equally gracioso?] They have a distinct point of view about food, concentrating flavor into focused notes, fashioning morsel bombs and showcasing the special character of the food of the Iberian Peninsula.

Posted by Dennis at 9:39 PM | Comments (0)

Paradise Lost

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"...justify the ways of God to men..."

Early this summer, I listened to two audiobooks, Milton's Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained and the Great Courses lecture by Professor Seth Lerer, the Life and Writings of John Milton. (An aside that I find interesting: the first audiobook is illustrated with an image of Paul Gaugin's sculpture, one that I had the fortune to see in person at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles a few years ago.)

Here is a shorter synopsis of Milton's life and work by Jonathan Rosen in the 2008 New Yorker for those of you who won't yet buy the Seth Lerer lecture. Both I highly recommend.

What sticks with me at the end of summer 2016 (apart from Milton's collapse and fusion of ancient and -for him- contemporary literary forms) is how differently Milton rendered Satan and G-d, the former in a glory of similes and the latter in the absence thereof. The two initial books of Paradise Lost are a torrent of similes that delineate Satan. I immediately thought of art and representation, of rebellion and transgression's key role in art history, of how artists in general could be compared to the fallen angel.

I won't be able to summarize Lerer's brilliant lecture, you'll have to listen to it yourself. But here is a link that touches on somewhat the same territory, Elle Irwin's 2012 An Analysis of a Literary Device - The Epic Simile in Milton's Paradise Lost. Irwin says that not only does Milton employ epic similes when rendering the fallen, but they are cascading in descending order, the rhetorical devices are themselves falling in a controlled demolition:

Milton's similes bring sympathy and understanding to those characters that they describe and also align the characters within the comparisons to humankind. In her article "Milton's Kinesthetic Vision in Paradise Lost" Elizabeth Ely Fuller says, "Satan's physical being has no integrity: he repeatedly changes shape and substance [...] " It could be that Satan's physical representation is what makes him relatable. Maybe Satan's lack of integrity is what makes the reader sensitive towards him. Satan begins his journey as an angel in heaven, and ends his journey as a tormenting serpent. As Satan digresses, he becomes more concrete. We see Adam and Eve follow a similar path. Before the fall, man and woman are unfamiliar because their lives are surrounded by perfection and bliss. Once they have fallen, they experience emotions that are easier for us to understand: lust, jealously, revenge. The further Satan falls from heaven, the closer he becomes to humankind and the further Adam and Eve fall, the closer they become to Satan. It is alarming that Milton aligns Satan not closely with God, but with humankind. We can never truly comprehend God; we can only understand our own sins. Milton wants us to understand evil clearly; he wants to make evil tangible so we can see it, feel it, smell it, and recreate it in our minds. We do not get this same treatment of God because God is not used in any of Milton's similes. Therefore, Milton is treating heaven supremely. Milton is in some sense playing the role that assumingly God did in Paradise Lost. God wants us to understand evil so we can know and appreciate good.

And then we come to Book 3 in Paradise Lost: to render G-d in Heaven. How does Milton tackle this challenge? Here are some notes I took from the audiobook on the fly:

Great Courses Chapter 8 of 12

Book 3:
Heaven presented as a world without texts
A world unfilled, holy, not a world of written language, a world of voices that sing
The unmediated structure of expression
No references to books or writing

Milton's idea of unfilled language, rhetorical discourse: speaking
The stance of Homeric Vatic Poet, a singer, a speaker, an orator
An oral presentation of an oral Greek speech

Writing is an estrangement, a fall into writing
A representation of living in the world historically
The letter, the symbol of fallenness

G-d is the original author who speaks, by which things get done

In heaven, there are no similes
Only repetitions, statements, only synonyms
Intensely repetitive
Not about figural language, metaphor, simile
Heaven is about stating what things are
Things are said rather than explained

Paradox?: things stated as they are vs an attempt to describe the unmeasurable

Posted by Dennis at 9:31 PM | Comments (0)