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Hope as slogan, hope as navigation

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a visual DoubleQuote on the difference between artist and politician ]
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As you may have gathered, I’m an admirer of the artist Alyce Santoro‘s work, and yesterday I came across her Existential Navigational Chart, with its little note in the bottom left corner:

Soundings in the Unfathomable at Mean Low Water (MLW)

In any case, it reminded me of the enormous difference between a political slogan and an artist’s insight.

Obama‘s HOPE (upper panel, below) was a lure, an appeal to an ideal in the sea of practical politics — and opinions are divided as to how well he managed to fulfill that one-word promise:

Tablet DQ 600 hope and hope islands

Alyce‘s navigational mapping of area surrounding the the Hope Islands (lower panel, above) on the other hand, is both more fanciful and more realistic — a wonderful combination if you think about it. Notice the nuance she manages to pack into her map, with Inner Hope Island, Little Hope Island, Hope Island, and on southwards to Lost Hope Island, False Hope Island, and Hope Ledge — and all so close to both Little Despair Island, and Love Rocks —

Who, truly alive, has not been stranded on one or more of those islands, nor dashed against Love Rocks?

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You can download a print quality, high resolution file of Alyce’s chart without cost, or click through to her Philosoprop shop to purchase a signed copy.

On the topology of dreams

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a poem that’s far too philosophical to work as poetry, Laramée’s Apparatus, and Alyce Santoro’s philosoprops ]
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The logic of poetry is, más o menos, dream logic, and so I’ve been pondering the logic of dreams and recently wrote this not terribly poetic poem:

The egg at the conjuror’s table

There is a topology of dreams.
Out beyond Riemann and names I have yet to learn,
there are configurations of space:
past Boole, dreams have their logics.

*

Take an egg.
With a tap of the wand, crack it open,
let it fall apart so precisely
the two half-shells could again fit together,
ovoid, seamlessly,
almost an egg.
Catch white and yolk in a glass.
Toss up and catch the half shell in your left hand
holding the right steady,
bring them together, there’s a fit,
a logic to it, a topology, one
to one, across many thousands of facets
of fragile, broken shell.
Break another egg so preciely
the left half of ts shell would match exactly
the right half of the first,
bring them together,
the fit is exact by definition,
brown shell with speckled,
but there is loss of logic, the thing is surreal,
an egg not an egg at all.
Holding the half-shell in your right hand
face upwards, pour into it
yolk and white of the same egg,
the heart of the egg filling its own shell,
the fit ovoid, but better:
the original yolk united with its familiar shell.
Cover shell and all with a handkerchief,
red, green, blue,
whisk it away, and the egg vanishes —
or appears, whole.

**

There are logics, topologies,
affinities beyond the exact match
of shell and shell,
and so between times, places,
people in dreams –
the half hovel, half cathedral
with its walkways among lily ponds, the koi,
dusk in one century dawn in another,
her youth your old age your youth again, time
cracked open so precisely,
its yolk, meaning,
its moments an exact match across centuries,
its half-shell a perch for Venus,
its wholeness Fabergé,
its yolk, tempera mixed by Giotto,
meaning, tempera, Assisi,
gesso, the chalk cliffs of Dover, the sea..
There is a harmony of the whole,
of the broken unbroken,
named yet unnameable, unspeakable,
there is a logic.
there is a topology of the sundries of dreams,
a mathematics to this matching
of thou with i,
of words, asleep, awake, of dusk to dawn, with all.

Recognising that it belongs in a category she might call philosopoetry, I sent it to my friend, the artist Alyce Santoro, author of the remarkable Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide>

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I’m a lucky fellow.

Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I ran across this quote from Walter Bejamin:

I had suffered very much from the din in my room. Last night the dream retained this. I found myself in front of a map and, at the same time, in the landscape which was depicted on it. The landscape was incredibly gloomy and bleak, and it wasn’t possible to say whether its desolation was merely a craggy wasteland or empty grey ground populated only by capital letters. These letters drifted curvily on their base, just as if they were following the mountain range; the words formed from these letters were more or less remote from each other. I knew, or came to know, that I was in the labyrinth of the ear canal. The map was at the same time a map of hell.

There’s something darkly Borgesian about that quote, eh? But it certainly illuminates dream topology, and even moreso, the topology of the relationship of dream to waking, itself worth comparing with the relationship of map to territory, word to referent, and indeed moon to finger with which Count Korzybski, Lao Tzu, and the Zen poets are each so notably concerned.

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Tunneling on through, I find myself contemplating one of Alyce’s inspirations — Eve Andrée Laramée’s Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, shown in Mass MoCA‘s 2000-2001 exhibition Unnatural Science, from 2000 – 2001:

laramee

A detail from that work illustrates the etching of certain phrases into the glass — in this case, the words polysemy and misconception:

7. Eve Andree Laramee_polysemy-misconception

The display is characterized in this piece from Art & Science Jounral:

Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions by American artist Eve Andrée Laramée consists of an array of tall metal stands, clamps, PVC tubings, glass beakers, flasks and vials. Although much of the equipment looks standard from afar, the installation is a dysfunctional and mythological sort of laboratory that highlights the inherent but often unnoticed subjectivity in scientific inquiry. [ .. ]

In this fantastical and visually dazzling Apparatus, many of the glassware are hand-blown with various cloudy or luminous turquoise solutions and copper wires attached to large exotic flowers contributing to the spectacle of a giant chemistry experiment gone amok.

Upon close inspection, a second level of complexity is revealed by the seemingly unscientific words and phrases such as “HANDFULS”, “LEAP IN THE DARK” and “UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES” delicately etched into the glass, exposing a sense of insecurity and imprecision behind the process of science.

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My Egg at the conjuror’s table is really more a philosoprop, to use Alyce’s coinage, than what many expect a poem to be, and likewise Laramée’s Apparatus more a philosoprop than what many expect an artwork to be.

Philosoprops:

The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog.

Let’s talk..

Sunday surprise: peering digitally around corners 1: Holbein

Sunday, July 31st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — a saunter through London’s National Gallery with Holbein’s Ambassadors, a skull and a psalter ]
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Let’s begin with Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors:

Holbein Ambassadors

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First up for consideration is this anamorphic skull detail:

Holbein detail anamorphic skull

The very oddly misshapen object in the foreground is in fact a skull, visible as such from the right position vis-a-vis the painting. It has puzzled countless people for ages, and no doubt considerably increased the painting’s fame in the process. The simplest explanation I’ve found is this one:

It has also been hypothesized that the painting is meant to hang in a stairwell, so that a person walking up the stairs from the painting’s right would be startled by the appearance of the skull. From such an angle, the skull appears in its correct aspect ratio.

Here’s the skull, resolved — to show it as it appears from the correct viewing angle — an angle from which the rest of the painting makes no sense, mark you:

Holbein_Skull

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That’s the most striking detail in the painting, but also of interest is this Psalter detail:

Holbein psalter detail

The psalter is depicted in the painting in the same perspective as the two figures, globe, carpet and so forth, but it’s at an angle to the viewer — and an enterprising fellow therefore decided to work computationnal magic and show us the psalter rectified, as we might see it if we were in the room, went over, and looked down at it:

Ambassadors_Lutherian_Psalms

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All of this reminds me of another brilliant work of art, featuring an analogous shifting of viewpoint: Ridley Scott‘s Blade Runner, which I’ll explore in Part II of this two-part post.

Sunday’s second surprise — the Van Gogh DoubleQuote

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Van Gogh, Rilke, El Greco, Von Kármán. Hokusai, Jakob — rich correspondences between singificant items in widely separate disciplines ]
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My friend Steve Engel suggested this variant on my personal favorite DoubleQuote — the one pairing Van Gogh with Von Kármán — and as a lover of Rainer Maria Rilke I very much appreciate his suggestion, which bridges painting and poetry as my original DQ brdges arts and sciences:

SPEC DQ Gogh Rilke Steve Engel

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I’ve also featured that particular van Gogh painting in another DQ, this one showing the sky as painted by El Greco and Van Gogh:

SPEC DQ greco gogh

El Greco was first among my loves in painting, and I’ve long thought that the differences between how El Greco sees the sky and how Van Gogh sees it could stand in for the differences between religions — you don’t see Van Gokkites attacking El Grekkites in museums on account of the different visions of their preferred painters, and if we could view religions as visionary rather than prescriptive, taking from them what a poetic, metaphoric, non-literal, non-fundamentalist, non-reductionist reading would approve, we might be a little farther on our way towards interfaith harmony, and away from religiously-sanctionable violence.

I’m thinking here of St Francis‘ meeting with the Sultan Malik al-Kamil, and more recently Thomas Merton‘s meetings with Buddhist contemplatives, Sufis and the like..

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Here’s the Von Kármán / Van Gogh DQ, which I value in light of Hermann Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game as a clear bridge between one of the crucial dualities of recent centuries — the needless and fruitless schism between the arts and sciences, which has given rise not only the rantings of Christopher Hitchens and his less elegant disciple Bill Maher, but to such other matters as the Papal condemnation and “forgiveness” 359 years later of Galileo Galilei, Charles Babbage‘s Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, Andrew White‘s A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology in ChristendomW, and CP Snow‘s The Two Cultures:

karman gogh

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And finally, here’s an ugraded version of the other DQ of mine that seeks to bridge the arts and sciences — featuring Hokusai‘s celebrated woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa (upper panel, below) and Jakob aka nikozy92‘s fractal wave, which I’ve flipped horizontally to make its parallel with the Hokusai clearer (lower panel) — Jakob‘s is a much improved version of a fractal wave compared with the one I’d been using until today:

SPEC-DQ-Hokusai-fractal v 2.0 minikozy92

Recommended Reading—Summer 2016

Monday, July 11th, 2016

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Storm of Creativity2017

wright-brothers-biographyserendipities

Paradisejssundertow

white horsewashington

 

The Storm of Creativity, by Kyna Leski

2017 War With Russia, by General Sir Richard Shirreff

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

Serendipities, Language and Lunacy, by Umberto Eco

Paradise, Dante Alighieri, translated by Mark Musa

Undertow, by Stanton S. Coerr

The White Horse Cometh, by Rich Parks

Washington The Indispensable Man, by John Thomas Flexner

This list starts the first week of May, so perhaps the title should be Spring/Summer. Most of these books are quick reads and all are recommended.

I picked up Ms. Leski’s book at an MIT bookshop on a business trip in early May and read on the train ride home. Books on creativity are ubiquitous, but Ms. Leski takes an interesting approach by describing the creative process using the metaphor of a storm. Several ZP readers will find of interest.

2017 was recommended by a friend. The author was the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the book focuses on a Europe/NATO response to a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Written in a Tom Clancy-like style, the plot is fast-paced even though the good general provides sometimes provides detailed insights into the inner workings of NATA and the North Atlantic Council (this is one of the values of the book—bureaucracy writ-large).

David McCullough’s Wright Brothers delivers an approachable and human accounting of the first men of powered flight. Some reviews on Amazon complain McCullough lifts and uses too many quotes to tell the story. At times the quotes were distracting, but not enough to prevent the enjoyment of the story of two brothers who changed the world. This book was a gift otherwise I probably would not have read.

Serendipities is a short book, but was a long read for me. Eco explains how language and the pursuit of the perfect language has confounded thinkers since time immemorial. He refers to Marco Polo’s unicorn (also used in his Kant and the Platypus which is excellent) explaining how language is often twisted to meet a preconceived notion or idea. The first couple of chapters were quite good, chapters three and four did not hold my interest or were over my head. The closing chapter was good enough to convince me I’ll need to read this little book again. (My Eco anti-library has been growing of late.)

Eco’s book led me to reread Musa’s excellent translation of Paradise. My son gave me the deluxe edition with parallel Italian and English, plus commentary. Eco referenced Canto 26 and 27, and I enjoyed the break so much I read the whole thing!

Undertow is my good friend Stan Coerr’s second book of poetry.  His first book Rubicon was a moving collection of poetry of men at war. Undertow deals more with the heart and is quite good, too. You won’t be disappointed.

White Horse is also a book by an old friend, Rich Parks (we’ve known each other since the mid-80’s). White Horse is self-published and in places it shows, but the overall story is quite good for a first book (I’ve already told him his book would make an excellent screenplay.). The plot is quick and entertaining even if a bit unbelievable, but the story is fiction. Rich is following up with a sequel in August in 2016 and I’ll be reading it, too.

Mr. Flexner’s Washington was a gift, too. In this quick biography Washington is made approachable and human. And when I say “quick,” I mean quick…Trenton and Princeton took one chapter compared to David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing which took up a standalone book. If someone were looking for a first Washington biography, this would be a good place to start.

This isn’t the conclusion of my summer reading, but a pretty good start.What are  you reading this summer?


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