NIVELLERING – LEVELLING OUT DIFFERENCES
Ursula Nistrup, November 2000
Similar / Similar to
Blur / in-the-becoming
Nivillering – levelling out differences
Attempts / Approaches / Layers
List of images
No.1 Gerhard Richter : “Apple trees (650-1)”,1987 6 b
No.2 Gerhard Richter: “Apple trees (650-2)”, 1987 6 b
No.3 Gerhard Richter: “Apple-trees” (650-3)(sketch)”, 1987 6 b
No.4 Roger Callios: “Butterfly, Roger le Diable”, Minetisme animal,1963 8 b
No.5 Ceal Floyer, “Door”, 1995 11 b
No.6 Vija Celmins, “Star fields lll”, from the series “Star fields”,1983 20 b
No.7 Edmond Jabes, ”The Book of Questions”page 287,1983 23b
No.8 Edmond Jabes, ”The Book of Questions” page 264/ 265,1983 25 b
This essay will be centralised around and through the ideas of the Danish poet and art critic Per Højholt. Concentrating on issues of similarities and/ or variations, the distinction between approximations and definitions, between the attempts and ideals. Different mediums will be included in order to expand but also to specify the various aspects of the issues.
A series of similar yet very different paintings by Gerhard Richter will be related to a discussion of the ‘ simulacrum’, and also viewed through a projection piece by Ceal Floyer. Floyer’s piece deals with a physical spatial situation, which even through it’s clear physicality still questions reality and illusion. Edmond Jabes is in his poetic work dealing with a different but related aspect of physicality, distance and space. He is concerned with an idea of the unanswerable questions, this he investigates through an idea of multiple attempts.
The drawings of Vija Celmins are included and analysed as a way to discuss the method of drawing, through layering. Her working method acts as a way to reach an approximation of a defined answer, without the answer, itself only through unanswerable questions.
“..,there is only the approach” states Critchley, commenting on the writing of Beckett, dealing with literature and the various ways the voice can: “..tell the truth – no, first the story”.
These quotes question the notion of the truth or the real, by clearly stating that the story and the real are dissimilar. They also suggest that there is not one absolute singular approach but more likely various attempts to describe a particular situation or visual idea.
In this essay I will discuss the importance of such approaches or attempts, especially in relation to the way visual artists work.
The second quote of Critchley states, or at least indicates that the imagination plays a central part and that this is not considered as part of the truth.
I will focus on what lies between the ideal of the absolute and the approximate, considering the limits as well as the possibilities within these terms. I will discuss the approximate and plural attempts, exemplified in the paintings of Gerhard Richter , focusing intensively on the monochrome painted areas in these paintings which are deliberately constructed as blurry parts of the paintings, despite the fact that they are painted after a photograph.
I will discuss the term ‘simulacrum’ in relation to Richter’s image series with focus on the aspect of approximation, similarities and the act of mimicry. An installation piece by Ceal Floyer will be used as an approach to deal with the similar and/ or the original. Her work is often difficult to distinguish from the pre-existing interior objects in the gallery. The pieces can questionably be regarded as both original and unoriginal and are thus interesting in relation to Richter’s work.
I will be looking at his strategy of blurring, consider what constitutes such a visual, situation and why he might choose to create it. I will refer to Per Højholt's arguments, which are primarily based on poetry, to analyse Richter's paintings.
The drawings of Vija Celmins will establish a different, yet connected angle to Højholt's ideas. In this case, I will mainly be interested in the technique Celmins uses in her work, a technique of adding layer over layer, where the individual layers seem to act as attempts or questions. The estimated result - the finished image is created only through an accumulation of layers. The individual layer does not seem important without the whole addition of layers, which constitutes each image.
Separate from the visual works, the literary work of Edmund Jabes will be discussed primarily in terms of the linguistic structure of his book “The Book of Questions” . Here he creates a specific linguistic situation, which has similarities to the blurred areas in Richter’s paintings - in this case not as a painted, visual situation, but through the spaces between text fragments.
In both cases the artists choose to describe non-physical, almost emotional spaces through concrete and physical mediums. I find this interestingly contradictory, that such non-tangible subjects are being mediated through painting and literature. It would seem more obvious to investigate subjects of such undefined character through more spatial and, in some regards, more abstract medium. The physical presence of a book or a painting is undeniable, no matter how unspecific the subject represented in them is. The projection piece by Ceal Floyer deals with many of these aspects of physicality, abstraction and imagination.
Using examples from three different mediums might seem inappropriate, but I will examine them individually to make the discussion clear and then link them together, while discussing Højholt’s Ideas. The variety of mediums has been chosen to support and demonstrate that his ideas do not only apply to his own specific medium of poetry but to most mediums of art.
My aim is to visualise these ideas and discuss the related issues and establish some kind of conclusion. When verbalising the issues they primarily appear as questions, speculations, and simple thoughts, at this moment I can’t even find estimated answers. The conclusion of this essay will probably not consist of absolute answers, but rather be an investigation of thoughts and ideas. This will play a central part within the essay structure, but will also be an important part of the questions themselves.
I have chosen mainly to take a concrete approach, illustrated through painted surfaces and literary structures to exemplify ideas dealing with abstract issues. I have chosen these more concrete works of art to make my points as clearly visible as possible. This deliberate choice of mediums should not be regarded as restriction but simply as an exemplification. And it should not indicate that these ideas only can exist under these or similar circumstances. A central part of my interest in the ideas lies in the way they are descriptive of and closely connected to basic human experiences. These become evident in situations, where a variety of subjective ‘true’ interpretations of the same one situation are present. The experiences work as a tool to make sense of such a situation, these variables being the approaches or the attempts to -tell the story .
Similar / Similar to
I will now look at paintings of Gerhard Richter concentrating on the three images, which constitute the series “Apple Trees” (1987).
They are all based on the same original source – a photographic print.
The first of the three oil paintings in the series is titled “ Apple Trees (650-1)”.[ see ill. no.1]
Similar to the other two images this is a depiction of a landscape. In the background of the image a very undefined formation of cyan coloured mountains is positioned. A light sky occupies most of the upper half of the image. Approximately at the centre of the image a horizontal line divides the cyan mountains in the back, from green areas in the front. A road runs from the front left corner and vanishes at a point near the dividing line. Two trees are positioned in the centre of the green field, and the crown from yet another tree seems to be entering the frame, occupying the upper right corner. The silhouette of trees is not clearly described, it seems that the light comes from behind them, which makes it difficult to describe exactly where they are. A wind seems to make the trees move and an exact description seems even more difficult, this despite or because of the detailed method that Richter uses.
In the second painting, “Apple Trees (650-2)”[ see ill. no. 2], the cyan background formation emerges into the whitish sky. The horizontal line, that divides the green fields from the mountains, is here very diffused. We are given the impression of foggy weather coming towards the front of the picture. The trees are described in a dreamlike way, as if a soft filter has been placed over them. The sky seems flat and without any highlights.
In the last picture in the series, “Apple trees (650-3) (sketch)”[ see ill no 3], the landscape seems to disappear, moving backwards, creating distance. The trees are placed further back than in any of the other paintings. The road on the left side of the picture no longer has any defined borders, neither has the horizontal line, which in this case is barely visible. The cyan colour of the sky seems to reflect or mix into the green coloured fields underneath it. The cyan mountain formation can not be distinguished from the sky, which has the same colour. In the previously described images, two trees were definitely positioned in the centre with an indefinable number of other trees, it is not possible in this picture to decide the exact number. The above describes how each painted image in the series varies; they are similar, but far from the same.
Richter is able to depict images which vary in exact representation of the represented. In her essay on Richter Tatiana Maria Lund discusses this issue.
“.. what is likely nevertheless, is that the paintings suggest that we are always only brought close to the similar.”
The number of painted trees is difficult to determine, but it is without question different in each image. Their difference lies in the various extents, to which they are depicted out of focus. When the exact number of trees is kept a ‘secret’ from the viewer, we become uncertain of how the ‘real’ situation in fact is.
“..not a matter of less and less real, but maybe a suspension of the mere possibility of truthful representation of the real.”
It is hereby suggested that there is no ‘single’ truth. What we find are interpretations, depictions and attempts to express what is just one amongst many subjective truths.
Every individual interpretation suggests a unique exemplification of truth, never identical to any other.
“The truth of truth, which is…. that truth is something duplicitous and bivalent…
In the case of the “Apple Tree” series, Richter makes us aware of differences between the original, the photograph and the several copies. He clearly remarks on the fact that the original and the copy are far from identical, not even in appearance. The motivation and the idea behind the three images might have been connected even identical, but the results, the actual images isn’t.
At this point I would like to include a related but also very different aspect to the notion of the truth, the original and the copy. To this argument I will introduce the term ‘simulacrum’ which is being used in various contexts to differentiate between the original and the copy.
Rosalind Krauss examines this term, through her examination of the essay “Butterfly, Robert le Diable”, mimetisme animal (1963) by Roger Calliois [ see ill. no. 4]. The image is a photograph of branches and leaves, situated in an artificial studio setting. At first the objects seem to be described as they might be found in natural environment, by looking closer you realise that this is far from a representation of nature. The image shows a leaf, that is being mimicked or caricatured by another leaf. The mimicking leaf has been given an animal-like face, still partly camouflaged as a leaf, somehow submerging from the leaf next to it. Through the act of mimicking, there is a transformation from being a part of the other leaf into being identical to it.
“He feels himself becoming the space....He is similar, not similar to something, but just similar.”
This touches upon an important aspect of the ‘simulacrum’; the extent of similarity between a copy and the original, and whether the idea of identical simply is an ideal. Even in a situation, as described in “Butterfly, Robert le Diable”, it is obvious that an identification of something ‘other’ is being mimicked and copied, but we are still able to distinguish between the two, the one doesn’t become indistinguishable to the other.
Gilles Deleuze is a French writer who is interested in the idea of the ‘simulacrum’.
“ …distinguishes the simulacrum from the copy in two ways: the copy is ‘endowed with resemblance’, whereas the simulacrum need not be; and the copy produces the model as original, whereas it ‘calls into question the very notion of the copy and the model’"
He describes the ‘simulacrum’ to be an indistinguishable example of the original, to the extent where there is nothing to base a comparison on.
…”no way to tell the difference between the true copy and the simulacrum,..”
This contrasts the exemplification of the “Butterfly” , which Krauss used to illustrate her interpretation of the term. If the argument is, that the difference between a copy and the ‘simulacrum’ is that the ‘simulacrum’ is indistinguishable to the original, it will not be possible to tell the difference between the original and the ‘simulacrum’. In the example of “Butterfly” this is not the case, even though the ‘simulacrum’-leaf, camouflages itself to look like the original leaf, this act of mimicry fails and the difference between the two is immediately noticeable.
“When Plato introduces the notion of the Simulacrum in ‘The Sophist’, he describes it as a copy, though identical, has paradoxically become nonresemblant.”
“…it is not the fact of being a copy that is simulacral, but that of being an untrue, nonresemblant copy.”
It must, according to this statement, still be possible to distinguish the ‘simulacrum' from other copies, even if it is being regarded as an object of non-resemblance. Thus it is obviously possible to prove its untruthfulness. A situation where the representation, the copy, becomes identical to the original can, in my opinion, simply exist as an ideal. If it is not possible to distinguish between the two from appearances, surely the aspect of time will show their difference. If one object is a copy of the original, one must assume this original object to exist prior to the other, and through that create the position of the original, to which the copy must be a variation occurring at a later time. I will discuss this aspect of time further in the conclusion of this essay. At this point I will have introduced a broader variation of visual works to base the discussion on.
I will at this point introduce a projection piece, which clearly touches upon this particular question[ see ill. no.5]. It is an installation piece by Ceal Floyer titled “Door” . The piece in itself is very simple. In an empty, low-lit gallery space a slide-projector is positioned on the floor, facing a door. The projector is turned on but seems in the first instance not to project anything. Then you realise that the projector has something to do with the door it is facing.
” The door is closed and you see an inordinately strong light pouring through the gap between it and the floor.”
The projector is projecting a very thin strip of light, carefully positioned on the door. It looks as if the light comes from the room behind the door, which makes the situation uncertain. The work does not in any way try to hide where the light comes from.
This aspect of the piece has similarities to the ‘simulacrum’. The projection makes the light look as if it comes from a room located behind the door, yet it does not. There is no reason for comparison, because an identical situation could be established, had the projector been turned off and the light behind the door been turned on. Despite these obvious observations, it is far from resolved whether the situation, created by Floyer could be said to be the original or if the situation of the light from behind the door might indeed be. It can therefore be difficult to tell ‘simulacrum’ from the original and vice versa.
Floyer’s work often includes elements which question imagination or illusion.
” … The illusions are always so obvious in their constructions that they somehow refute the very possibility of illusion….. yet the illusion was perfectly believable.”
It is obvious that the work is not an illusion, but it does suggest that something approximately similar could be regarded as an illusion. This indicates that there is a thin line between an illusion and a real situation. A thin line not so different from the one separating the untrue copy, the ‘simulacrum’, from the original.
I will now return to the blurry areas in Richter’s paintings, which can seem to describe non-separated elements or illusions.
To return to Richter’s painted series; it is here the case that the series contains three different interpretations of a bivalent truth. As described earlier the paintings have identical titles only with a small variation in numbers, 650-1, 650-2, and 650-3. This indicates, even before looking at them, a set of similarities, but also of differences.
Even if this might be” Very Little….Almost Nothing” , it is never the less a central part of the series.
The role of the blurring is of significant interest; the abstract areas in the images.
These are areas which are rendered very light, as if covered by a semi-transparent, light-diffusive layer. This seems to create an indefinable, visual distance between the viewer and the represented situation. The function of the blur allows space for imagination and opens up the image, which makes the reading of it less predetermined. In such an imaginative situation there are ideally no limit to what might appear, nothing is fixed because the image only exists in a field between the image itself and it’s viewer.
“..fields in which nothing is settled and everything seems possible”
This is a statement by the American painter Barnett Newman, made on the basis of his own familiarity with abstract monochrome painted areas. But there is a difference between blurring out an object and creating an evenly tonal painting.
I will suggest, that what we are faced with when looking at a blurred image is linked to our imagination and to our expectation of what we might find. The image presented to us is not a fixed image despite the obvious physicality of it. A specific image mediates certain information to the viewer, in a specific situation these are conditions which will never be identical. In every situation the image seems unique – “in-the-becoming” , even if it might always look the same. It might “float the field of seeing” , but we are nevertheless waiting for, expecting “…a picture to emerge.”
In the moment of waiting, watching and waiting for an image to reveal it self, it finally reveals itself in the unique way that can never be repeated. Through moment of the encounter between the individual mind and representation is where the image exists.
In the case of the “Apple Trees”, we, the viewers, create the images somewhere between what we are presented with on the canvas and our imagining of it, or our image of something completely different from it. In that way the image is never fixed, and perhaps even less so in the case of a monochrome or partly blurred image.
“What seems to be the case is that we are dealing with pictures that are simultaneously fixed, undeniably there, and fluctuating, denying us their here. In their immobility, they move about constantly.”
To blur images is a way to create possibilities within the images, amongst them, or possibilities which can transpire from them.
“ I never found anything missing in a blurry painting. On the contrary, one sees much more … … in a blurry painting you can perceive any number of trees you wish.”
What Richter describes is an ideal, a situation where nothing is missing and everything in theory exists. To put his idea on the edge, he could then simply paint one blurry canvas and claim that this painting contained everything.
Instead he paints the “Apple Trees”- series, making three attempts . Three attempts to answer the same question, or at least investigate and deal with it.
In the book “ Cezanne’s Method”, the author Per Højholt is concerned with a similar ideal situation within poetry. He relates this discussion to elements of time, specifically the moment as an abstract place in which this situation of possibilities can occur
“There are no limits to what the poem can contain as a product of the representational moment.”
Højholt is not concerned with the pure limitlessness situation, he seems more interested in a specific element of the contained.
“The moment as being representative….containing the total interval of knowledge, not a part but a cross-section of a whole.”
Højholt uses the term ‘cross-section’ as a visualisation of an idea about limitlessness, yet this described moment still contains an idea or a knowledge about a conclusive whole. I will then state that there must be another aspect to the act of containing, which must include the not-contained.
If this was not a part of this idea there would be no reason to describe it as something contained, within a container. To me that implies that the ideas of Højholt and of Richter only exist as ideals. Ideals, which act as never reachable ‘goals’, but through their very presence, create situations of possibilities.
I will now look closer at the specific limits that Højholt deals with in connection to his ideas of the ideal moment, this being a linguistic situation in either a text or a painting.
Nivillering – Levelling out differences
Another issue attached to the significant act of blurring is the issue of choice, value, and importance.
Through the act of focusing, a prioritisation of one element in favour of another is being made. By choosing something from a context, isolating it, the value of it changes. It is a deliberate choice to focus on one element or just as deliberate to choose the opposite action and thereby not place value on any single element, but on all of them.
This is what Højholt is interested in when he talks about ‘nivillering’ - a situation where all the components have been made equally important. In this situation the elements are all coherent and losing any one of them would damage the others. This means that this situation is the complete opposite to that of focusing. With the term ‘nivillering’, Højholt introduces a connection to Cezanne’s particular method of dealing with colours. In his book Højholt introduces the ‘nivillering’ as the way Cezanne attempts to describe grey, without ever directly using grey in his paintings.
” In Cezanne’s colour spectre every colour is a variation of grey. He did not paint the portrait grey, but investigated it through yellow, red, green and blue and every other colour.”
“ …every colour we perceive in nature elicits the appearance of its complement, not only must there be a green- if you are painting grass- but also the complementary red which will make it vibrate.”
Cezanne made use of complementary colours, colours which are very different from each other to create yet another third colour variation not of difference but of similarities.
Højholt uses the expression ‘non-differentiated’ to characterise this concept. This idea was expressed by the presocratic philosopher Anaximander who said, ” things transpire from the non-differentiated” . Højholt interprets this as “that without difference”.
Another approach to this issue of values and importance is whether an object of greater visual priority requires to be represented clearly and in focus, or whether the blurring of an object can create a visually more interesting image, where indications are used to describe what is not directly visible.
Richter comments on the relation between blurring and importance,
“I blur things to make everything equally important…. I blur things to make all parts a closer fit.
Perhaps I also blur out the excess of unimportant information.”.
Richter deliberately decides to blur part of the original motif and thereby translates the original sketch into another image. He decides that some parts of the image have greater value than other parts. Richter interprets one approach to reality into another and questions hereby the very issue of the real. This is a situation which Højholt seems interested in, but in this case he deals with a process, through which similarities can be established. Richter does end up with a situation where differences also have been levelled out, but Højholt’s focus is not on the deliberate selection of less or more important parts, but on the process, through which this can occur.
“A Nivillering will erase any differences”
This is exactly what Richter does, amplified in his grey-toned paintings from 1960s and 1970s that visually show the colours merging into each other. In this way, various coloured areas appear to be part of one another. The line, which encloses and unifies one individual shape from the surroundings, becomes an indistinguishable part of the coloured areas, and thereby invisible.
The areas visually merge into each other as a part of the process which Richter uses to create his paintings. The ‘finished’ image is made before he adds the extra layers, which create the blurry areas. He is able to decide the focus of the image after the photograph has been taken, as opposed to when these decisions are usually made. This decision is normally made before the actual exposure of the photographic image.
Richter is the maker of an image, which in some ways can be regarded as being constructed from two individual images, two distinctly different ways of capturing light and time. Using these two mediums Richter also constructs visual layers, in which the depiction of something real or authentic is being deconstructed. He uses the original as a photograph, which he doesn’t just describe in a painting, but which he transforms into something even further from the original.
Attempts/ approaches/ layers
I will now return to the series of Richter’s “Apple trees”. I will use them to expand the issues relating to the process of ‘nivillering’ there by clarifying its importance, as a central condition, a link, prior to any attempts.
In theory, the three images may have been seen and read as three independent attempts to make a picture, based on that one photograph. None of them are any more accurate or truthful representations of the photograph than the other, which doesn’t seem to be Richter’s intention either. It is not a question of the one single perfect representation, but of possible variations.
“ I don’t believe in the absolute picture. There can only be approximations, experiments and beginnings, over and over again”
This argument can also be used in relation to the drawing “Star Field lll” by Vija Celmins.
[ see ill. no.6].The image describes, what looks like a random selection of light grey, white and brownish dots onto a dark, almost black background. The frame is literally occupied by these lighting dots, some are accurate and detailed, others more indefinable in their presentation. Attached to several of the many dots are very small points, which are positioned around the centre of the individual dot. In some cases it seems as if these specific dots surrounded by many points, might only consist of these very small dots, the centre being a concentration of individual points. It is difficult to determine whether the darker dots have their original colour or if they have been drawn on again, after they were made. The image contains density and depth, which seems to be created by the various toned dots.
The method Celmins has used to make these specific works is a kind of layering of drawings/ paintings. Celmins shares Richter’s use of a photograph as a model for the images, but unlike Richter, she only creates one image from each model. The parts of the working process, which includes plural attempts happens in this work within the drawings themselves. She works her way through several layers of suggested surfaces - ”stacking up evidence”.
“ I keep wanting the things to be denser - …Filling up”
“. So dense that you couldn’t quite see what the original surface was.”
The layers eventually create an image, where every layer can be read as an attempt. None of them cover the entire sheet of paper, therefore they do not create an even, complete surface. Contrarily, parts of every single layer are constantly visible, as evidences of the various attempts. There is in this case no singular concluding layer visible in the finished image, which is a sedimentation of layers.
“I’m going to build up these layers until the painting can’t hold them without cracking, and then I’m going to leave it”
This indicates that Celmins has no prior knowledge of what the final image will be. She keeps adding new layers to the previous, continuing until the paper can’t hold any more graphite and at this point the image is finished.
“Celmins images…. look for what the tide will bring in; always they confront uncertain fates…”
I will now look closer at the notion of the various situations of uncertainty which seem to be significant in the visual works of both Celmins and Richter. This discussion will be based on Højholt’s ideas, and in this context I will introduce the Jewish poet Edmond Jabes and his book, “The Book of Questions”. This work seems to be an appropriate example, since the arguments of Højholt are primarily based on his experience in the medium of poetry. I will though, attempt to create an argument which is equally relevant to the visual media of art as to literature.
Jabes is interested in the spaces between words, words within sentences, especially sentences, which create an open, not concluded, structured question. [ see ill. no. 7].
He deals with these linguistic pauses, as if they are simultaneously physical spatial distances or emotional events. Blanchot comments on Jabes’ interpretations of these situations, describing them as: “The Waiting that measures an infinite distance”
From the several works of Jabes, I will focus on the specific structure of “The Book of Questions”. This structural situation can be related to the situation of blurring in Richter’s paintings. In this analogy the monochrome parts of Richter’s paintings work as spaces, which are open to interpretation and elements of imagination.
“For the world is a mass without the gaps,..”
These spaces are important in relation to the clearly limited parts of the images, or to the clearly marked words, in the case of the page. It is though the presence of these seemingly empty spaces that the clearly described figures or words can be seen or read.
“The gap makes becoming possible. Discontinuity assures continuity of understanding”
Understanding is here being introduced as an element, which depends on these pauses. It seem to be suggested that in a linguistic situation without such elements, the other elements can not be understood, or that no sense can be found here.
“To interrupt yourself in order to hear yourself. To hear yourself in order to speak. Finally, to speak only in order to interrupt yourself and make possible this impossible interruption”
Words, in Jabes’ argument, work as representations of the language which makes it possible to describe silences, the silences being represented as the white spaces between the words.
Højholt introduces the uncertain as another element of these pauses. In his view, pauses and the uncertainty are a necessary and indispensable part of an argument.
“ ..a precision of the undetermined will only be realised through a constant uncertainty and doubtfulness of all linguistic conventions”
To understand this, it is important to visualise that ideally anything can occur from these pauses. It is significant to visualise the two elements as connected; the infinite possibilities and the somehow just as unmeasurable uncertainties existing as two sides of the same argument. The uncertainties do not represent something negative or something to avoid, rather they represent chance and are thus clearly connected to possibilities.
In “The Book of Questions”, Jabes also deals with a more specific linguistic pause, not simply between single words, but between questions.
“The book is a construction of fractures and fragments, this way every dialogue in the book gets interrupted before a balance between a question and an answer has been established. It is as if a person speaks for a longer or shorter period of time and then suddenly leaves, before it has been possible to answer. Later you meet again, but at this point all the answers have been turned around: they have become questions.”
The internal structure of the book, “ The Book of Questions”, is created as a dialogue of questions answered by other questions. Between the questions the obvious open space occurs, as a suggested answer. [ see ill. no.8] There is a direction from one to the next – a kind of growing layering of knowledge, which, in a fragmented way, creates the direction from one sentence to the next.
“One remark adds to another the same way as questions expands, thus the answer to every
time ends up in a new question.”
These non-answers never contribute to any conclusions: on the contrary, the attempt to conclude happens as an accumulation of all these layered questions.
These are significantly different from the layers, which constitute the paintings of Celmins. In the case of Jabes we are faced with a linguistic, very abstract layering, which more or less exists in the mind of the reader. This layering has a variable element connected to the time and the amount of pages the reader has encountered. The layering in Celmins work seems more concrete, because it is immediately visible to us. In this case fragments of every layer are represented to us in the ‘finished’ image.
In the case of Jabes, all the previously layered questions might indeed be represented in a randomly chosen question, but not with the same immediacy. Only through a reading will the accumulation – or the ‘cross-section’ - of the various layers be made clear.
The single question is taken in to consideration when the next is formulated and thus each new line of questions contains knowledge carried over from those which preceded them. In this way the questions literally move through the book, never directly answered, but constantly in transformation. A situation not unlike that of the never fixed images, “waiting to emerge”
It can therefore be suggested that no answers exist, only the accumulation of questions and the spaces between them. The uncertain element lies between the questions, but is simultaneously part of them. This does not necessarily constitute any direct answer, simply an attempt to simulate answers.
Perhaps what is central is not to search for answers as individual elements, but the acceptance of the non-answered conversation or something that has no intention of being answered. The further you come from expecting to find an exact answer the closer it might be.
…the exact actually begins to near itself to any viable form of exactness.
I will now describe the action, that Højholt considers the method of any art-practice. This relates to the previous issues of exact answers. He describes the improvisations closely connected to chance and uncertainties, the uncertain area from which an attempting answer might appear.
Højholt talks about how all art forms, poetry as well as any other media of art, have to transpire from this space of uncertainty, as products of chances. That the work must be created through a process of being an ‘extension of nature’, in the sense that it can not be repeated and never fixed or in any way provided the basis for a stable situation. “..art must imitate nature.”
“If art must imitate nature, it must do so by itself becoming nature and not only by trying its best to render the appearance of nature”
In the case of Pollock's ‘action-paintings’ , one might say that he attempted to become nature, in the way he claims to paint without thinking of the result. This situation of improvisation, summarised by Pollock in his statement: “...I am nature”
I must admit to not being convinced by this statement. I will suggest that Pollock was very aware and highly calculated in his way of working. He was a very articulate painter and I not can believe that he in could produce images, without having any expectations or control of the situation.
I will argue, that Højholt’s idea is not to literally become or be able to replace nature, but to work in an unpredictable way, where elements of chance and uncertainty can play an important part. It is obvious that expectations and prior knowledge always will have an impact on the outcome of the process. Considering this Højholt introduces the process of improvisations:
“ A premeditated precision of the undetermined can only exist within the boundaries of art,
where it must take on the role as improvisation”
Here I will ague that I not can think of a predetermined improvisation, this suggests a close relation to uncertainties and chance. There will of course be premeditative preparations, thoughts, ideas related to improvisation, but the outcome must be unpredictable.
“The representational work of art will never make any expectations, that either the reader
or the artist is capable of articulate in advance.”
Any improvisation, as a representation of works of art existing within these limits, must as a result of this be individual and unique - not unlike each element in Richter’s “Apple tree”- series. Each individual painting can be shown as an example of a painted improvisation. The various resulting tree images tell us about the unpredictable aspects of painting, even after the same sketch, whether this is a conscious choice or not.
“.no result is being accepted as any thing other than a potential possibility..”
There might not be any answers, simply questions which might indeed be more adequate, that perhaps is the closest we come to an answer. We might find that indirect answers can be ‘hidden’ in the attempts.
What Richter might suggest is that it takes more than one attempt to answer or show that there is no singular, absolute answer. The answer, if it exists, might be read as an accumulation of multiple attempts at questions.
This also applies to Celmins, and her process of layering where the individual attempts never completely cover the paper sheets and as a consequence do not create an even complete surface. All layers are constantly visible, representing every attempt to reach an answer, but no singular conclusion exists. This results in fragmented collaborations.
The issue of the absolute is in this context also a non-answerable question. Undefined approximations, which might or might not have a way of becoming defined, are exemplified in the projection piece by Floyer. She creates a spatial situation, where illusion, reality, is being tested. She uses gallery spaces and walls in a different way than Richter and Celmins, when she projects onto the walls they become a part of the work. This is different from Richter and Celmins, who in a traditional way regard the gallery, primarily as a place to exhibit finished pieces. When Floyer includes the gallery space in her work, the walls and the specific lighting condition become framing elements, which enable the work to exist. The specific relations between the projected images and the surroundings makes the works change from one exhibition situation to another. In any situation, the space is an integrated part of Floyer’s projections as the white areas are in Jabes’ book.
Richter, Celmins and Jabes are dealing with different and yet highly intangible subjects through physical objects, the book and the painting/drawing. Somehow the forms of the mediums do not seem to be directly questioned by any of them. A highly undefined subject-matter is being described through an accumulation of layers or a book of words. And then again maybe not; Jabes transforms the physical whiteness of the pages in his book into infinite distances. He constructs an illusion, a space between clearly defined elements. The defined elements make it possible to read the undefined.
The, in some ways, defined mediums of painting/ drawing and literature works as tools to establish parameters for a less defined subject of uncertainty, chance and imagination.
Through various attempts they all manage to construct something far from the medium itself, independent from the specificness of the individual mediums.
Through this essay I have been investigating various methods through which images have been created. The attempts, the answers and the unreachable conclusion has been my interest. The notion of time has been an ongoing theme through this essay, closely connected, in this context, to the differentiation between the various and the similar.
I will here return to the discussion of the ‘simulacrum’, which I introduced in the first part of the essay. The projection-piece by Floyer includes aspects of time in relation the similar. Her projection doesn’t introduce anything out of the ordinary into the gallery space. We can only distinguish between what was originally there, by the fact that Floyer’s work isn’t going to stay there indefinitely. The piece exists for the period of time it is installed and after that the original stripe of light or shadow will again be evident. This phenomenon might be referred to as a temporal ‘simulacrum’, but is it then a ‘simulacrum’?
It is Interesting, nevertheless whether there can exist such a phenomenon as the non-resemblant identical copy - the ‘simulacum’. One could imagine copies of one photographic negative being printed several times, they would probably appear identical, but how could they be?
Each of them would obviously be a variation of the same original, they would all have differences caused by chemicals or other kinds of imprecise factors. Every one would react differently to the chemicals and the light conditions before, under and even after they have been produced. Even if they appeared identical shortly after they were produced, they will never stop changing. The various times of the re-production is also an aspect of difference within them.
One might question the relevance of this discussion of the similar, but I believe it to be of great importance to the way in which we view ourselves individually and in relation to others. Also it is important to the way we read and receive signals and communicate with our surroundings. One might also question if it is at all central to distinguish the copy from the original, the real from illusion. To me it is central to distinguish, even in a situation where the copy might be able to fulfil the function or place of the original. I believe that a difference always exists and that it is of great importance to contribute to the variations. The ‘simulacrum’ and the total variation might both be ideals, but isn’t the issue just as much about being interested in looking for the variation and not simply accepting things to be similar when they might not be?
The concept of similarities might also exist in the ideas, in the attempts or in the results. It is obvious that several attempts, even if they are based on a similar idea, never end up as identical results. This has been my primary motivation in writing this essay. Not aiming to find identical results, but to investigate the variations of the methods through which results might be established. Through this investigation I have discovered that the attempts themselves are central, and that conclusions might be reached through the knowledge of the actual attempts. According to Højholt and Critchley conclusions do not seem to be important. What does seem to be important is the approach. “... there is only the approach.”
Antoin, Jean-Philipe – Photography, Painting and the Real – Edition Dis Voir, 1985
Bartmann, William S. (ed.) – Vija Celmins interviewed by Chuck Close, 1992 in:
Between Artists – Art Resources, 1996
Baudrillard, Jean – Cool Memories – Cambridge: Polity Press,1996
Baudrillard, Jean – Simulations - New York:Semiotext(e),inc,1983
Blanchot, Maurice – The Step Not beyond – State University of New York Press, 1992 (1973)
Blanchot, Maurice – The Infinite Conversation – University of Minnesota Press – Minneapolis and London, 1993 (1969)
Bois, Yve-Alain & Krauss, Rosalind – Formless, A user’s Guide – Zone Books, 1997
Brunette, Peter & Wills, David (ed.) – Deconstruction and the Visual Arts - Cambridge University Press, 1994
Camille, Michael – Critical Terms of Art Theory – The University of Chicago Press,1996
Celmins, Vija – Works 1964 –1996 – ICA, London, 1996
Critchley, Simon – Very Little… Almost Nothing, Death, Philosophy, Literature – Routledge, London and New York, 1997
Derrida, Jacques – Memoirs of the Blind, The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins – The University of Chicago Press – Chicago and London, 1993 (1990)
Derrida, Jacques – Writing and Difference – Routledge & Keagan Paul London and Henley, 1978
Foster, Hal – The Return of the Real – The MIT Press Cambridge, 1996
Foucault, Michel – Blanchot, Maurice – The Thought from Outside – Zone Books, New York, 1990
Foucault, Michel – This is Not a Pipe – Berkeley, University of California Press, 1983
Gould, Eric (ed.) – The Sin of The Book: – University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 1995
Harrison, Charles & Wood, Paul (ed.) – Art in Theory, an Anthology of changing Ideas – Blackwell, 1992
Højholt, Per – Cezannes Metode, (Cezanne’s Method) - Schønberg, Copenhagen, 1985
Jabes, Edmond – The Book of Questions - Wesleyan University Press, 1991
Jabes, Edmond – From The Desert to the Book, dialogues with Marcel Cohen – Station Hill Press, New York, 1990
Koch, Gertrude – The Daily Practice of Painting, writings and Interviews 1962-1993 – Thames and Hudson, 1995
Lund, Tatiana Maria – Apparitions – GSA, 1996
Lund, Tatiana Maria - Apple Trees – GSA, 1999
Lund, Tatiana Maria - Accumulations – GSA, 2000
Merleau–Ponty, Maurice – Sense and Non-Sense – Nortwestern University Press, 1964
Smidt, Julia - Reality/ Simulation – GSA, 2000
Millar, Jeremy and Schwarz ed.- Speed- Vision of an Accelerated Age, The Photographers Gallery in London, London and The Trustees of the Whichapel Art Gallery, Macdanald
Stewart Art Centre, Guelph and The Netherlands Design Institute, Amsterdam, 1998
Richter, Gerhard – Atlas – Distributed Art Publishers – inc. New York, 1997
Richter, Gerhard – Landscapes – Sprengle Museum Hanover – Cantz Verlag, 1998
Richter, Gerhard – Paintings - Thames & Hudson, 1988 – text by Ronald Nasgaard
Art In America # June, 1988
Artforum # Feb., 1992
Artforum # Oct., 1993
October # Fall, 1992
Parkett # 44, 1995
Parkett # 36, 1993
No.1. Richter, Gerhard ”Appel Trees (650-1)” original title “(650-1) Apfelbaume”,1987 Oil on canvas 67 # 92cm.
No.2. Richter, Gerhard ”Apple Trees (650-2)” original title “(650-2) Apfelbaume”, 1987 Oil on canvas 72 # 102 cm
No.3. Richter, Gerhard ”Apple Trees (650-3)(Sketch)” original title “(650-3) Apflebaume (Skizze)”,1987, oil on canvas, 62 # 83 cm
All copied from Gerhard Richter – Landscapes – Sprengel Museum Hanover Cantz
No.4. Caillois,Roger ” Butterfly, Robert le Diable” from Minetisme animal, 1963
Copied from page 74, in Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss – Formless - A user’ Guide – Zone Books, 1997
No.5. Floyer, Ceal projection ”Door” exhibited in the Cubitt Gallery, 1995
Copied from Art monthly # 193, page 22
No.6. Celmins, Vija ”Star Field lll”, Graphite on acrylic ground on paper, 53,3 # 68,6 cm Copied from Parkett # 44 page 34/ 35
No.7. Jabes, Edmond copied page 287 from – The Book of Questions – Wesleyan
University Press, 1991
No.8. Jabes, Edmond copied page 264 / 265 from – The Book of Questions – Wesleyan
University Press, 1991