Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The violence of surfacelessness in conceptual visual art

I am thinking of what Duchamp called "non-retinal" visual art, and of its violence.

Such "conceptual" visual art, of which I take Duchamp's ready-mades to be the type, such as his "bottle rack", is art that by-passes the body. This is because it lacks surface, which is the same as lacking touch.

I mean that when we contemplate, say, "bottle rack", in the art-space-gallery, there is no call to consider the object other than in its signifying or symbolic potential. I suppose we can, if we want, consider the aesthetic (by which I mean sensory-perceptible) qualities of the ready-made, and certainly a bottle-rack (like many other things) has a strangeness, and perhaps a strange beauty, when seen out of its normal context. Its "look", though, is as it is. And the artist is presumably not selecting the ready-made for its surface-visual seductiveness except at a relatively superficial level. It's "look" is what it already is. The placing of it in the space of art, and its naming as art, is what sets the thoughts going towards meanings, such as "Is this art?", "What was 'retinal' art, if this is 'non-retinal' art?"

When I look at a painting I see a surface that has been touched (or from which touch has been withheld - but in which case touch is still implied, by its absence).

A photograph has no surface.

I saw the John Stezaker show at Whitechapel Art Gallery in 2012(?)
I feel (I nearly wrote "fear") that the work is substantial. The choice of photographs (1930-1950s period, am I remembering rightly?) makes me think of things just beyond memory, now looking too distant to have influence. Then the splicing and slicing interruptions of the visage are very powerful. The synapses are severed as one looks.

From Charles Baudelaire "The Desire To Paint"
"She is beautiful, and more than beautiful: she is overpowering. The colour black preponderates in her; all that she inspires is nocturnal and profound. Her eyes are two caverns where mystery vaguely stirs and gleams; her glance illuminates like a ray of light; it is an explosion in the darkness."

I found myself feeling quite nauseous. Again, it was something about the work by-passing the eye and going straight into the mind, straight into meaning. I'm not sure what I mean by this. I think of Duchamp's term, "brain-facts".

The photograph has no surface.

In by-passing the body, conceptual visual art, deploying objects (including humans) and resolving things to their meaning in a system of objects, in particular arrangements, does a kind of violence. I think it acts to separate the intellect from the senses. One ends up being, not an eye, but a camera.

Painting is also "conceptual", or can be, but it has a surface.

Link to Abandon.nl blog, where is an article on the non-retinal

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