Writing is most alive when directly engaged in the experience—as a cartography of an encounter or inner space. Recently I stumbled across an interview with photographer Uta Barth where she was asked why narrative annoyed her. Barth’s response captures a lot of what I’ve been thinking:
Narrative holds out for a certain inevitability, it places deep faith in cause and effect. Narrative is about reconstructing a chain of meaningful events based on a known outcome. I’m curious about visual art that’s about the visual. Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees is the title of Robert Irwin’s biography. Originally, it was a line in a Zen text. Narrative in art makes us think about all sorts of interesting things, but it derails the engagement with a visual experience.
But how does this translate over to writing, which is essentially narrative? I am interested in this engagement as an enlivening experience that allows the text to break down this ordering of cause and effect. Barth also gets points for bringing Robert Irwin into the discussion.
As an artist and writer I’ve been thinking about narrative, and how it can often feel stagy and forced, cutting away appendages for the sake of logic and stacking a synthetic sense of cause and effect.
Janine Antoni is an artist whose work is tied to the senses and how we experience and engage with the world through the physical. Instead of focusing purely on how the art object looks, her approach is more likely to draw the viewer into an engagement through touch, smell, taste, or sound and into the process of how the work comes to be. This approach draws us into our perception of how we make choices, take actions and experience the world, whether she manipulates chocolate sculptures with her mouth or mops the gallery floor with her hair. Antoni observes,
Performance wasn’t something that I intended to do. I was doing work that was about process, about the meaning of the making, trying to have a love-hate relationship with the object. I always feel safer if I can bring the viewer back to the making of it. I try to do that in a lot of different ways, by residue, by touch, by these processes that are basic to all of our lives…
For Saddle, the artist made a cast of herself on all fours and then draped it with a soaked sheet of cowhide. After the skin hardened she removed the cast, so that the cowhide became a freestanding entity that delineated the outline where her body had vacated. continue reading
Kiki Smith’s work often explores our relationship to myth and nature. MoMA suggests,
In her recent work Smith has often turned to fairy tales in search of dramatic female personae and alter egos. The poignant vulnerability of childhood is an underlying theme in many of her images, like this one, based on Lewis Carroll’s manuscript drawings for Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (1886). The tension between young girls and animals pervades this scene as Alice struggles in a pool of her own tears with the duck, the dodo, and others.
Smith observes, “Making art is a lot about just seeing what happens if you put some energy into something.”
In Pool of Tears 2, a cluster of animals is grouped behind Alice with the horizon between foregrounded blue water and greyish sky that meet in the middle in an expanse of sea. continue reading