“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Magical Causality, Aboriginal Painting

Yukultji Napangati, Untitled. Watch a video of her describing her work.

For my Australian friends: the painting I'm talking about below is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, highly commended for the 2011 Wynne Prize. The painting (Untitled, 2011) is reproduced below but the image just doesn't do it justice. The one above works better to evoke it. But this is one of those images you have to see in the flesh.

At a distance it looks like a woven mat of reeds or slender stalks, yellowed, sun baked, resting on top of some darker, warmer depth. A generous, relaxed, precise, careful yet giving, caring lineation made of small blobby dots. The warmth reminds you of Klee. The lines remind you of Bridget Riley.

As you come closer and begin to face the image it begins to play, to scintillate, to disturb the field of vision. It oscillates and ripples, more intense than Riley. How did I know this was a woman artist before I found out who it was?

In fact this is a painting about, a map of, a writing about, a lineation of women traveling through the sandhills of Yunala in Western Australia, performing rituals and collecting bush foods as they went. A map of an event unfolding in a 2D rendering of a 4D (at least) phase space.

Then something begins. What? You begin to see the interobjective space in which your optic nerve is entangled with the objects in the painting. The painting begins to paint right in front of you, paint the space between your eyes and the canvas.

Layers of perception co-created by the painting and the field of vision begin to detach themselves from the canvas in front of you, floating closer to you. This “floating closer” effect is one I associate with the phenomenology of uncanniness. The experience you have in a strange place, or a strangely familiar place, objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Intersecting shards of patterns within patterns, patterns across patterns, patterns floating on top of patterns. A constant mutagenic dance between the levels of patterns.

The painting is a device for opening this phenomenal display. It comes lurching towards you, hypnotizing you and owning you with its directives of sandhill, women, rituals, bush food, walking, singing, lines. You feel gripped by the throat with the passion of the imagery. All the hairs on your arms stand up and the painting has you in its electromagnetic field. The painting dreams.
Causality begins.

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