Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Jarrod Fowler

I'm in dialogue with several artists and musicians concerning things ecological. Recently I've begun to appreciate Jarrod Fowler's work very much. There are a growing number of sound artists taking cues from new directions in philosophy. At least two pieces on Jarrod's page refer to OOO. Have a look--or, rather, mouse over space until you hit the right link...it's a very ambient page...



15 comments:

nickguetti said...

Art isn't really a major focus of mine, so it's possible that I'm being a total simpleton here, but I tend to treat most examples of modern art as colored objects to be used as decorations if one likes and can afford them. In terms of art in reference to ecology, I find absolutely nothing in abstracts. You have mentioned landscapes in your classes, and I wonder what you might think of the idea that a landscape painting is an actual manifestation of ecology in an individual mind in relation to a landscape, to canvas (or whatever material) and the experience (the act) of painting. The features in the landscape don't mean anything except precisely what they are, which is why to me a landscape painting is a genuinely ecological image. I'm not differentiating here between concrete and abstract images: speaking of sound art, the Grateful Dead noodling improvisationally during the "space" part of their concerts was and is often something in which I can find realities of the same kind as can reveal themselves in landscapes. But in art (sound OR visual) that is not improvisational, but is PLANNED to be abstract, I don't find those realities, and I find myself doubting that anyone else can. To me, this fashionable abstract nonobjective expressionism of our society is actually quite fundamentally nonecological, to say nothing of how interesting or meaningful it is. DOES anybody really find ecological intimacy in this stuff? And if you say you do, how do you know that "EI" is really what you're getting from it? How do we know it's not "divine inspiration" or "satanic influence" or "indigestion"? If, as you say (and I agree), reality is not some object about which we can have different opinions, then why this rather profound difference in our perceptions? Or is there really no difference except in my apprehension of the situation? Am I the only blind man who's trying to figure out an elephant, and others in the room can actually see? Sorry for the lengthy rant, but I'm really wondering here...

jliat said...

This is a very large topic (sic), but just a couple of things. ‘Landscape’ painting isn’t simply one thing, the whole ‘idea’ of landscapes being firstly suitable subject matter and that in landscape could be found the sublime was not and is not a ‘given’ but was given. Petrarch (Mont Ventoux) – marks a fundamental change is western attitudes, in which ‘environment’ became significant, and not something to be ignored i.e. the beginnings of a humanism from which the enlightenment and sciences would grow. I.e. before Wordsworth the lakes were thought ‘ugly’. Constable’s work was of ‘industrialization’ of Suffolk, http://www.abcgallery.com/C/constable/constable11.JPG (this canal was a modern mass transport system?) and ‘realist’, compare to the paintings of Richard Wilson who still couldn’t see the Welsh mountains through anything other than Italianesque glasses… http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/29/Wilson-avernus.jpg/250px-Wilson-avernus.jpg
Surely ‘realism’ is a key feature in the development of thought as opposed to superstition, and the ‘outside’ as opposed to a hermeneutics of theology. And so in such ‘light’ the cubists challenged the then stereotype ‘perspective’ of the world, as a picture – i.e. as something which humanity is an ‘outside’ observer of, and not in a integral and dynamic relationship with…. Lastly within abstraction the idea of both the object and its physicality – as not something other, i.e. a representation/picture, paintings are not cute but things in themselves, and the act of making a painting a physical ‘performance’ in the world http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/4/42/Namuth_-_Pollock.jpg/220px-Namuth_-_Pollock.jpg
- “because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess.” (is the ‘ecology’ here so - to - obvious ???!!!)

“I feel nearer, more a part of the painting, since this way I can walk round it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting. This is akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West.”

Again a ‘geography’ which disrupts the previous ideas of ‘position’ – e.g. that of nature as just a resource – one dimension …

nickguetti said...

Part of the reasons (I don't know what all the reasons are yet; I've discovered some surprising ones) that I am following Tim's blog is so that I can try to distill some of what he's talking about (Ecological Thought, OOO, etc.) into something that can translate into Knowledge of Truth, from which follows Right Livelihood, from which follows Right Action. I move in ecological pragmatist circles (permaculture, ecological design), and so it's important to me that this can be done in language accessible to laypeople.
As you say, this is a very wide sea to sail in, so I won't even try to be brief.

I'm not familiar enough with the history of art to say yea or nay to much of your comments; indeed, I hardly know anything about art except in terms of how it affects me personally. I could maybe benefit from more familiarity with the subject matter. But one thing that I think every American citizen should be required to take a course in is Native American literature. When Pollock (hardly himself a candidate for the Right Livelihood award) says that what he is doing is "akin to the methods of the Indian sand painters of the West", there are so many things wrong with that sentence that I despair of being able to communicate with anyone who buys it. But I'll try.

First of all, the fact that he says he FEELS like he's "literally in the painting" seems to be merely self-indulgent romantic consumerism at its most naked, and not only romantic consumerism but also commercial advertisement for why we're not cool unless we appreciate this piece of canvas (or whatever it is) that he's splattering paint onto. The artist is not necessarily going to be there when we observe the art, so what he says is not relevant, just as "God" or "Gaia" or "Nature" is not relevant to the fact (or, beyond the fact, the revealed truth) of a buttercup.

To be continued...

nickguetti said...

Native American sand painting is a form of tribal use of patterning, and as such is an ancient way of imparting useful and traditional information, and of keeping account of phenomena so that they are available to all people, without having to be told what they are supposed to mean, because language alone will not do this. It is intended for quite specific ends; much of tribal art is a public mnemonic. The decorative function is incidental to the information function in such patterns. Decoration is the trivial aspect of such art, and "interpretation" does not even enter into it.

A lot of modern art is individualistic and decorative; some "motif" art is plagiarized from ancient origins, but no longer has the same function. Contemplation and decoration (and ambience, I suppose), IS a valid and important function, but it is a minor one. To me, this abstract nonobjectivism is purely decorative and trivial, and an example of "culture" divorced from relevant long-term participation with ecology.

Pollock's reference to sand painting is offensive in its glorification of the bottomlessly trivial, but even more so in its contribution--however slight--to cultural genocide insofar as it removes praxis from its context, reducing tradition to loot in a transparently capitalist fashion. Perhaps worse than the offense is the way such uninformation damages us by damaging our ability to understand or achieve practical interconnectedness.

To me, the challenge to ecological artists (and intellectuals!) should be to study and portray phenomena in a compact, memorable, and transmissible form, to research and create for common use those surviving art forms which still retain their meaning, and to re-integrate this art with science and with people and their functions and needs.

nickguetti said...

So much for modern abstracts; now, back to landscapes. As I say, I'm not up on the established theories about it. What I think is that pseudo-ecological art always refers to something else, beyond the things it represents--some piece of rhetorical nonsense, some absurd dogma from the current medium of fashionable thought, whereas a genuinely ecological image is always intrinsically meaningful. Landscapes really put me where I am, because they cause the "difference" between "objective" and "subjective" to cancel each other out. An abstract is something created by an artist and interpreted by critics. But when I'm confronted with a landscape, it's psychologically impossible for me to look at it with the eyes or the mind of someone else. I'm almost forced to submit to my immediate experience; I'm practically compelled to perform an act of firsthand knowledge. The view in the painting is a view, at one level, of my own mind, of everybody's mind as it exists above and below the level of personal history. There's darkness, but the darkness is full of life. There's light, and the light shines out as brightly from certain "objects" as it does from others. I do my best to disprove the fact, but a fact it remains: "I" am as much an object as "nature", and I don't stop at my skin.

But that's getting perilously close to theory, and I want to stick to the facts. The expression of distance, for example: distance isn't just about lending enchantment to the view. It's about reminding us that there's a lot more to the universe than just humans--that there's even more to humans than just humans. There are mental spaces inside our skull as enormous and real as the spaces out there. This is a fundamental ecological experience: that there are an unfathomable number of beings that are not THIS being. A picture like this is proof of our capacity to accept all the death inherent in life, all the absences of "worlds" around presences.

jliat said...

“I hardly know anything about art except in terms of how it affects me personally.”

Isn’t this the whole problem with “ecology”….? Or whatever mitigates against it, which is the “idea” of ‘person’, ‘individual’ within a group of primates in which there once was not such an idea….? i.e. the unity was that of the tribe in their environment…

As for Pollock, and he was an example I thought would be well known, “right livelihood” – many artists think that modernity sucks, to the extent that moral values are hypocritical, look at the painters such as Rouault or Grosz, Bacon and Pollock, the so called “decorative” paintings began life as scenes of human carnage, - the realization of humanities crimes against everything maybe vindicates the idea that self destruction for humans is – ecologically speaking – a good thing. Or given the horror of modern life any sane person would resort to drugs or kill themselves, it might be only by great feats of selfish indifference that humanity can kill and plunder, (or live and prosper)… such are the themes expressed in much of modern art. (including literature and philosophy) Certainly many Pollocks are not “decorative” – but OK what about Newman or Reinhardt… http://www.abstract-art.com/abstr_expressionism/ab-exp_images/re0a_Reinhardt_Painting_54.jpg

jliat said...

“the fact that he says he FEELS like he's "literally in the painting" seems to be merely self-indulgent romantic consumerism at its most naked,”
Perhaps so, but more likely perhaps how that idea has subsequently been marketed? Anyway – the feelings were quite intense, to the extent of him not living a “Right Livilhood” – but one which recognized in art Hiroshima and Auschwitz.. and the resulting inability of expression – the silent scream of Munch. Anyway enough of defending one over sensitive American..

“A lot of modern art is individualistic and decorative;” of course this statement evidences the opening quote of yours, you do need to do some reading, and looking, Abstract art, best associated with “A lot of modern art” was “taught” originally in the Bauhaus, closed down by the Nazi’s but became something of a blue print for modern art teaching, differeing from the old academy based – greek statues and life drawing schools. The idea was that art sort beauty in truth, absolutely nothing to do with decoration. The fact you find a Pollock decorative is not unlike those who now find Mountains ‘beautiful’. (hence the desire to rape them) Very little if any modern art was individualistic, its why there were/ are schools and movements, Cubism, Futurism etc. though (just like science) there are notable individuals working within movements.

“To me, the challenge to ecological artists (and intellectuals!) should be to study and portray phenomena in a compact, memorable, and transmissible form, to research and create for common use those surviving art forms which still retain their meaning, and to re-integrate this art with science and with people and their functions and needs.”

Which I could paraphrase and say – “people and their functions and needs” what if the function of humanity is the annihilation of the planet?

“So much for modern abstracts; now, back to landscapes.” No- landscapes are more abstract than “modern abstracts” – they are not signifiers but signifieds – or things in themselves – they are not pictures of … but things… just like dogs, and mountains… you only “see” a landscape because of visual western conditioning. A landscape painting is a window on the world, and a window is a very sophisticated thing. They are found in walls which separate us from the world, windows provide a safe view of the strange and the other. So the landscape offers us a humanized world view, a western one of nature from the security of the city (of god) from which we observe a different and ‘other’ nature, one we once feared but which we now control – with walls and windows of stone , glass, and ideas… “I'm practically compelled to perform an act of firsthand knowledge.” Not in front of an illusion, the storm in the picture isn’t real, or the friendly cottage… but the http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/awlee/arth245/images/imageset8/andre_144.jpg 144 pieces of lead – they are “real”… ones engagement with them is therefore *not* autobio

nickguetti said...

I'll start from the end & go towards the beginning.

You're not disagreeing with me at all when you say landscape paintings are signifieds rather than signifiers. This is what makes them truly ecological. You can look at them and see that the space (distance) you imagine (like that invoked by paint on canvas) is as real as that which you would see if you were standing in the artist's shoes at time of execution. At any rate, I do. A paint stroke is a paint stroke, not a buttercup. But it is also a buttercup.

What makes an abstract abstract (as I'm saying a landscape is non- or less abstract) is that I look at it, and concretely it is nothing but what it is until someone tells me it's something else. I can't tell just by looking at it. I can already experience a state in which something other than a buttercup is a buttercup, but why invent a whole new language when the one we have already functions as an obstacle to reaching such a state? Secret societies and clubs invent languages to make themselves feel important; right, I get that. But let's transpose this idea from art into something else...fishing, let's say. An artificial lure is not a baitfish. To you and me, a lure looks like nothing but what it is: a piece of painted wood or colored plastic with some googly eyes, a big fender on it to make it wiggle or splash, and some extremely conspicuous hooks hanging from it. But what it looks like to you and me has fuck all to do with its function. Whether it's a good lure or not depends on what the fish thinks it is. And a bass will chomp right down on that ridiculous tiki-looking object without hesitation. You can tie a very realistic looking fly that is bright yellow and try to catch bass, because you can imagine a realistic looking bright yellow fly that you think a bass might want to eat, but the bass is going to look at that bright yellow fly and laugh at you, because to the bass it looks like nothing but what it is. And lest you doubt whether a fish knows about fishermen, you can take it from me: it does. I'm not sure that it cares, but it surely knows.

I am a bass, and the art is the lure. What the artist thinks of his/her art has absolutely fuck all to do with its effect on me, unless some kind of interrelationship of knowledge exists between the artist and me. A fisherman who learns how to catch bass and a bass who learns to avoid getting caught have such a relationship. What you call "visual Western conditioning" is exactly this sort of relationship. Maybe this relationship is bad, and limits our perception in ways that are destructive. I'll buy that, though I think that even a bad relationship contains good elements that can be preserved (as a bass who escapes a lure learns what NOT to hunger for again). What I don't understand is why nonobjective abstract expressionists think it's a good idea to trade one bad relationship for another that is just as bad. By all means, get out of that room in that concrete building in that city and get some gardening done...preferably on a permanent basis, if you can find a way. But why forsake a painting of a landscape that deals with the universal experience of distance for an abstract that refuses to deal with anything but itself, like an auruboros? Aurobori are cool, don't get me wrong, but a serpent eating its own tail looks like nothing but what it is.

nickguetti said...

I'll start from the end & go towards the beginning.

You're not disagreeing with me at all when you say landscape paintings are signifieds rather than signifiers. This is what makes them truly ecological. You can look at them and see that the space (distance) you imagine (like that invoked by paint on canvas) is as real as that which you would see if you were standing in the artist's shoes at time of execution. At any rate, I do. A paint stroke is a paint stroke, not a buttercup. But it is also a buttercup.

What makes an abstract abstract (as I'm saying a landscape is non- or less abstract) is that I look at it, and concretely it is nothing but what it is until someone tells me it's something else. I can't tell just by looking at it. I can already experience a state in which something other than a buttercup is a buttercup, but why invent a whole new language when the one we have already functions as an obstacle to reaching such a state? Secret societies and clubs invent languages to make themselves feel important; right, I get that. But let's transpose this idea from art into something else...fishing, let's say. An artificial lure is not a baitfish. To you and me, a lure looks like nothing but what it is: a piece of painted wood or colored plastic with some googly eyes, a big fender on it to make it wiggle or splash, and some extremely conspicuous hooks hanging from it. But what it looks like to you and me has fuck all to do with its function. Whether it's a good lure or not depends on what the fish thinks it is. And a bass will chomp right down on that ridiculous tiki-looking object without hesitation. You can tie a very realistic looking fly that is bright yellow and try to catch bass, because you can imagine a realistic looking bright yellow fly that you think a bass might want to eat, but the bass is going to look at that bright yellow fly and laugh at you, because to the bass it looks like nothing but what it is. And lest you doubt whether a fish knows about fishermen, you can take it from me: it does. I'm not sure that it cares, but it surely knows.

nickguetti said...

I am a bass, and the art is the lure. What the artist thinks of his/her art has absolutely fuck all to do with its effect on me, unless some kind of interrelationship of knowledge exists between the artist and me. A fisherman who learns how to catch bass and a bass who learns to avoid getting caught have such a relationship. What you call "visual Western conditioning" is exactly this sort of relationship. Maybe this relationship is bad, and limits our perception in ways that are destructive. I'll buy that, though I think that even a bad relationship contains good elements that can be preserved (as a bass who escapes a lure learns what NOT to hunger for again). What I don't understand is why nonobjective abstract expressionists think it's a good idea to trade one bad relationship for another that is just as bad. By all means, get out of that room in that concrete building in that city and get some gardening done...preferably on a permanent basis, if you can find a way. But why forsake a painting of a landscape that deals with the universal experience of distance for an abstract that refuses to deal with anything but itself, like an auruboros? Aurobori are cool, don't get me wrong, but a serpent eating its own tail looks like nothing but what it is.

I can't experience firsthand knowledge in front of an illusion? Are you assuming that I can't tell the difference between a landscape painting and the actual "landscape" (that area of unique beings that we call grass blades, trees, air molecules, water droplets, soil colloids). Well, OK, let's say I can't! How is the experience of distance any less real in a landscape painting that exactly mimics the actual "landscape" to the point where I'm fooled than it is if I'm standing in the "landscape"? In either case, the distance is perceptual, not real. In THAT sense, sure: a conical burgundy-colored papier-maché blob IS a buttercup in the same way that a "buttercup" is a buttercup. It just happens to be handier to use an actual "buttercup" to convey this effect, because you already know that's what it is.

nickguetti said...

You ask, "What if the function of humanity is the annihilation of the planet?"

Whew!

First of all, I never used the word "humanity". I assume we're agreeing that there is no "nature". If there is no "nature" (and no "god" and no "gaia" and no "world"), there is also no "humanity", and therefore the question of humanity's function is moot. When I spoke of "people and their functions and needs", I used all three of those nouns with precision. There are people. People are unique individuals, and their functions are self-determined in relation to the being and activities of other unique individuals; their functions are not predestined according to anyone's artificial hobgoblin called "the function of humanity". There is also no "fate" or "destiny". Nothing determines the functions and needs of people except people.

I am a person. I do not choose that my function is annihilation. At the moment I do not garden (because I have no place to garden), some of my food comes from long distances away via petroleum (because my community does not feature an ecologically interconnected food web), I live in an apartment with a demented energy system (because I have no place to build a house the right way), I depend on internal combustion engines (because the functional geography has been constructed to serve the automotive industry), and I shit in the ocean (because composting toilets haven't caught on yet). But gradually, all these facts (which I used to consider to be just "features of the landscape") are changing because of the self-determined functions of people who decide to change them. Questions about the function of "humanity" do not help with this process, nor do individual choices favoring a kind of speculative nihilism. They don't WORK. I'm interested in choices that work: literally, "functions".

I don't find a Pollock decorative, I find it trivial, boring and pretentious. I find some modern art decorative, but I never find myself wanting to rape any of it. That's a joke, but seriously: You do understand that seeing a mountain as beautiful is different from seeing a mountain as a source of coal and therefore to be blasted so that its top can be removed, right? The mountains in West Virginia aren't being raped because they're beautiful, but because people are scared of the dark and want to run their time-saving appliances so they can work 80 hours a week and heat houses that are not built so as to heat themselves using energy from the sun. That is the truth, and in that truth is NOT beauty. One can have compassion for the individual beings caught in this relationship, but I think the beauty is to be found in changing the relationship, which is up to us as people with needs and functions.

nickguetti said...
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nickguetti said...
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nickguetti said...

Argh! Sorry for the muliposting. I'll figure this thing out eventually.

In closing (for now), I think it's valuable to exercise a lot of compassion for people's misguided attempts at getting their symbols to relate to reality. The trouble with symbols is that they don't, completely. But they can be formulated in such a way as to relate to reality "more or less". With more, you get science and reason. With less, you get delusion and paranoia. Somewhere in the middle is philosophy, metaphysics, religion--good or bad, depending on the mix. Sometimes you get an idea that's 10% sense and 90% malignant fantasy, like most organized religions. Other times the mix is more even: 50-50, or 60-40, or even 70-30 or higher in favor of sense and reason. "Nature", it turns out, was kind of a bad idea. "Ecology", on the other hand, might be a rather good one...but it's still an idea!

If, however, your goal is to come up with an idea you can talk about that matches reality 100%, then your goal is misguided. Humans are as inseparable from the making of symbols as spiders are inseparable from their webs. It's our genotype. Some webs work, and others don't; none of them catch ALL the flies, or there would be no food for the spiders later. So failure is part of function, a means of survival. If beauty lies in truth, then there is no beauty in symbols. None, no matter how good a symbol it is! But we will always use symbols, and we will always make the ridiculous mistake of finding some beautiful and others not so. In the meantime, we can also figure out how to garden and eat from where we are, how to transport our goods and move from A to B without ruining oceans and topsoil and mountains, how to build houses that provide for their own energy needs with no additional inputs, how to conserve water and get our drinking water from rooftops, and how to return what nutrients we don't use back to the soil they came from. The use of symbols has some limited use in these tasks, but the main thing is to talk less and do more. What we say (or paint or sculpt) has no direct relationship with what we do in any case.

Patrick Lovelace said...

As someone who has championed JF's work over the last few years, it's a distinct pleasure to see an organic appreciation & discussion pop up. Almost two years ago I published a work of Jarrod's called 'Percussion' as Percussion. It's presented in CD format, accompanied by an essay from Bruce Andrews & a forward by JLIAT, in a foldout poster. If anyone would like me to send along a copy, simply write to me at patrick.lovelace@gmail.com. Distribution has proven tough with this project; at this point, I'm offering it as a pay-what-you-wish (cover price is $10, but just a couple bucks to cover s/h suffices, paypal is the same address) or I'll simply send it compliments of the publisher. Jarrod's work perpetually deserves a larger audience—this album & package is as considerate, thorough & appealing as any of JF's other major work. Getting it into appreciative hands is what's most important at this point. So send your address along & I'll send out a copy (or several if you have friends).