Topic: state of the art - answers

During our research we have decided to concentrate on art pieces. An important terminus by defining what comes into the range of art and what doesn't has been aesthetic intentionality. Let's assume that we reduce our research on artifacts, on aesthetic phenomenons that are in the world with the intention of making them as they are. The best example to illustrate this differentiation is of course the couple nature/culture or here, the differentiation between the (visual) perception of a natural environment and the (visual) perception of a piece of art. The transcendentalist would argue that there is no essential difference between both. God is the maker of all things as each artist is the maker of his works of art. We are not going to argue on that here. Nature is beautiful. I understand the notion of the picturesque but also the one of landscape (speaking of landscape is always speaking as an aesthete) in this affirmation: "It seems to be made for me to look at it, for me to contemplate." The thing is that it is certainly not made solely for that purpose and most probably it is not made for that purpose. Nature is ruled by laws of functionality in the first place. Its beauty is a result of this functionality. Let's accept that here. There is no aesthetic plan behind. We decide thus to be aesthetical functionalists within this project. Our analyze and our research would narrow on aesthetical phenomenons where the primary function is precisely to be apprehended as such.

I believe there is more to the nature/culture-separation than this. As we have stated before the concept of space and of Aesthetic as a way of feeling oneselve in a space (room, the world, nature, the totality of things called reality...) (see G. Böhme) is central to our approach. We can then say that art constitutes different spaces or rather a space within a space. Now we can speak of transgression, of movements and of longing (in the sense of directionality).Of course the concept of space is tricky for example in sculpture (see Heidegger) or music. The point I am making is this: we contemplate nature while already being in it. We can gaze at a deep valley from a mountian yet the valley and the mountain where i stand are part of the same spatial continuum. Artistic production means making cuts in the space, drawing borders. The concepts of pitoresque and landscape imply a gradual movement towards such a separation of space. "It seems to be made for me to look at it, for me to contemplate." - yet it is also not, since i am in it and do not have the safe distance to fully fall into contemplation. This to me is the main differentiation.

I wonder if the phenomenon of the sharp abyss, the depth that seems to draw us down when standing on a verge, is somehow comparable to transgressive art. There might be something of an almost artistic separation of space here. I am not sure.

But we are not out of the problems here. Reading Rancière has taught us that in aesthetics there are no boundaries between disciplines. Rancière positions himself as the anti-essentialist breaking all our certainties about the specificity of one art discipline towards another by trying to define art disciplines outside of the range of their technical realization. Film, he states, existed before the actual invention of the first camera. he doesn't take here into account natural phenomenons like the camera obscura but narrative techniques that lead to a cinematic experience. Flaubert, he states, was a filmmaker. On the other hand he discusses a picture taken by an SS-officer in Auschwitz and finds its direct lineage in a painting of Rembrandt. Flaubert's intention was not to make cinema and the intention of the nazi was certainly not to position himself in art history. Rancière, like we two do, positions himself as what he is: a reader, a spectator telling about his experiences with art and analyzing them. Making links.

This to me is why Ranciere is interesting for what we try to do. I am not so much interested in his discussion of disciplines and techniques. But very much in the role of memory and experience in the formation of aesthetic situations.

Why exactly would we make a differentiation between being spectators of art, spectators of picturesque landscape or spectators of ourselves?

Basically the same answer as above. But to be more precise: the spectator in nature knows he is in a continuum of space. In moments of contemplation – when looking down into a valley – he tends to FORGET this continuity and to establish a frame, separating the distant view from the neardby surrounding. He so to speak creates an aesthetic situation out of a real situation. He arranges the surroundings to a picture and thereby creates more distance. This is actually the REVERSE OPERATION from transgressive situations in the contemplation of art. In the pictoresque the spectator steps out of the space, in transgressive art he steps into it!

I relate the best to pieces of art that have freed themselves from their authors. I like the idea of art being an activity where someone abandons something to history. He leaves his work as a historical artifact of its time. His authorship becomes irrelevant at the moment when he offers his work to a public. The art piece is in between it pairs. Experiencing some representatives of Minimal Art in a Museum in Geneva has been the first impulse, the first permission, as Morton Feldman would say, for becoming myself an artist. But experiencing art is also entering in relation with the author of that work.

I am not convinced here. Is this really the case? A) Factual: do we perceive art works like this? If i am in some random gallery and a painting catches my eye, i do not engage in a relationship with an author. Instead I engage in a relationship with an idea, an utterance, an intention. But that is not the same. B) Conceptual: is this the point in art? As we have said, art is offering heightened experiences in the freedom of not having to react, free to contemplate, endure, enjoy or not to enjoy. Is the absence of the artist – or his transformation/disappearance into a fictional role within the work (performance art) – not a conditio sine qua non for this experience?

Someone has had a vision, someone has worked and re-worked a certain material for me to see it how it is. Being myself an artist I need to imagine a fellow artist behind a work and even more important, I need to think a work of art in the continuity of the carrier of the artist. I need to think it in evolution. Maybe that's the true difference. Every art piece has an author and places itself therefore in history. The cycles of nature are very different. But then again we could argue on the definition of nature. What is that actually? And how often were we placed into an environment that we could call "natural"? Here again a huge discussion opens. Does this mean an environment not touched by man? An environment preserved by man? When do we start to talk about nature? Are the numerous national parks on this planet the last remnants of nature? Are the parks of our cities nature? The plants growing in our houses? The hair growing on our heads? I am not sure that I want to enter into this question of ethics. Let's stay in the aesthetics.

You are essentionally making the same argument I made some time ago, when saying that we have to have intentionality to talk about strategies – hence we have to omit natural phenomenon. I believe that is NOT the reason. Intentionality is just one aspect of aesthetic encounters. In fact intentionality is NOT the subject of our research, at least not central to it. Instead we are looking at phenomenon, occurrences firstly and then at strategies. But even then the person of the author does not necessarily come into play!

We have talked about transgressive phenomenons in art. To be short let's say here that they are moments and let's say here that they are moments where the distance between art piece and perceiver becomes blurry. Moments (and we are back to the idea of intentionality) where the art piece manages to suck the perceiver inside of its reality. This notion is rather vague and needs to be defined more precisely. Is the fact of being moved by something (and let's assume that we are talking about an art piece here) not already a transgression of my position towards this something? And if we even go further: is the fact of something catching our attention not already a transgression? A transgression of what? Of our freedom to pay attention to things and not to others? It seems to me that we enter here the beautiful world of media criticism. Our notion of transgression, for sure, needs to be clarified.

Let's start to shed some light by analyzing the terms you proposed. You are using here three metaphors, which are indeed central to our issue. But the metaphorical does not imply the factual!
The first one is “to be moved”(1). What do you mean by this? I assume that the common meaning of the expression derives from the concept of fluids and electric currents moving through the body. Very simply put: Being in a state of excitement means there is a lot of movement going on within. Being moved could then refer to the internal, to bodily and cerebral activity. So when we say, I was moved by this or that, we do not mean that we are moving in space or that we change position. We are in this sense constantly moved, e.g. stirred, stimulated, by our surroundings. Böhme speaks of the “ecstasies of the things”, meaning that all things extend and thereby influence what is around them. But this is not specific to art and it does not constitute a transgression of spatial frontiers.
catching attention” (2). The term implies in fact a violent movement of grasping, of intentionally changing the given direction of a thing, person. The figure implies consciousness as something in constant movement – maybe inside the brain, maybe outside (the gaze wandering around from object to object). And the objects are in this figure less ecstatic as they are – let's say – sticky. So they catch the gaze, and indeed they manipulate us insofar, as they change the course of our consciousness' traveling. This is the way attention is created. So why should we speak of transgression here? I would not use this term here, since the catching and changing does not imply any experience of spatial movement or confusing.
to pay attention” (3). This figure implies, that our attention is given, paid, to something, one. In this way we are giving out attention to the objects, and by doing so – I suppose – we activate their aesthetic potential. So you were right in forming an opposition between “catching” and “paying”. I wonder however if one is possible without the other. Can we decide to pay attention to an object, if it does not extend toward us, if it does not make itself “sticky”, to remain in this terminology.
What I am trying to show by these awkward word-plays is, that while the terms seem to imply a certain transgression or violence, forcefulness in the act, we are not dealing with transgressions here in the sense we are using it. Reading Böhme's ideas about ecstasy and atmosphere might really make this more clear to you.

The notion of transgression is a very powerful one when we talk about art. It has been used a lot since the late 80's to talk about art that intentionnaly is meant to shock the audience (G. Bataille, histoire de l'oeil should come on our list). So we are primarily talking here of transgression of moral rules valid in society. The transgression we are talking about is an aesthetic one. It presupposes the autonomy of the viewer towards the art piece and the autonomy of the art piece towards the viewer. This is very questionable whilst desirable from a political point of view.

Why is that so? Is the autonomy of the art piece not the very idea of art? What is your concept of autonomy here?

Our contemporary visual culture is constantly working on transcending the visible to all the senses. Installation art is art where you are in the art work, going to the cinema nowadays with the possibility of the Dolby Surround is an experience of total submersion into an universe. But is this different than the horrific experience made by the first viewers of the movie L'arrivée du train en gare de la Ciotat from les frêres Lumière? Is the progress of the technique not just accompanying the progress of our habits as viewers? It is a common sense to say that the visual is ruling our contemporary culture. Didi-Huberman goes back as far as to one of the first theologists, Retullus, in order to reverse the common sense and speak of "la haine du visible", the hatred of the visible. We constantly want to go beyond the visual, to transgress its possibilities. But is this such a strange thing?

I totally agree that there is a movement towards the desolution of the frame, the frontiers between art and reality. Maximum realism. But the quest for maximum realism is necessarily a dead-end-street. How could it be otherwise? What would be the aesthetic gain of a TOTALES KUNSTWERK? If I don't know it is art, how and why should I enjoy it? The joy of art lies precisely in it's limitations, it is in the alternation, not in the sameness. This is not a political claim, but an observation.

I've spent a lot of time in forest those days and in the past few years. I enjoy being there in the company of trees. Walking a forest is each time a little adventure to me. You see things from a different point of view, apprehend time in an other way, get in contact with the wild, sometimes you can get lost in a forest and then you can only look for an issue with the hope that you won't walk in circles. I mostly walk in forests with a photo camera at reach. When I see something that appears picturesque to me I start to shoot. How could I state that this picturesque impression is purely visual? This would be omitting a lot of parameters like my capacity of attention at that moment, boredom, exhaustion after a long walk, the loneliness of my thoughts. I like the idea expressed by Werner Herzog in Wim Wenders' documentary Tokyo Ga: "Sometimes making a picture is the reward of a lot of efforts. It has taken a whole day to climb that mountain, a lot of sweat. And now finally you are on the top and you are ready to make that picture. Pictures have their price!" I write here what I remember of this interview taken ironically in a elevator bringing Herzog and Wenders high above the skyline of the city. From that point of view I understand Rancière (again him) stating that images are not an exclusivity of the visible.