Incandescent Phenomena
December 13, 2009, 2:30 am
Filed under: Aesthetics, art, Philosophy | Tags: , , , , , ,

Cai Guo-Qiang, Self-Portrait: A Subjugated Soul, 1985/89 From the first time encountering this image, the associations with a handful concepts were inescapable.  In one fell swoop, ideas of subjectivity, energy, temporality, the trace, eventality, halos, and (most interestingly) incandescence glisten in the flow of attention when standing before the Qiang’s image. Multiple=

Cai Guo-Qiang, Self-Portrait: A Subjugated Soul, 1985/89

From the first time encountering this image, the associations with a handful concepts were inescapable.  In one fell swoop, ideas of subjectivity, energy, temporality, the trace, eventality, halos, and (most interestingly) incandescence glisten in the flow of attention when standing before the Qiang’s image.

Multiple passages from Jean-Luc Nancy’s The Experience of Freedom speak to this flash of bundled energy in the act of taking-place or becoming that Qiang’s self-rendering seems to record.  In one particular instance, Nancy writes of the ontological dimensions of freedom’s flare (82):

…freedom is itself nothingness, which does not negate itself properly speaking, but which, in an pre-or paradialectical figure of the negation of negation, affirms itself by making itself intense.

The intensification of the nothingness does not negate its nothing-ness: it concentrates it, accumulates the tension of the nothingness as nothingness (hollowing out the abyss, we cold say…), and carries it to the point of incandescence where it takes on the burst of an affirmation.  With the burst–lightning and bursting, the burst of lightning–it is the strike of one time, the existing irruption of existence.

This radiance occurs at the border between the formless being that lays beyond representation and representations of humanity that take on a determinate form or another.  It is the most basic point of our existence where ontological and ethical categories blur and come into play with each other.

Qiang’s gesture shows a trace of a human being that at a point in time glistens with a particular intensity, radiates heat and energy, and warps and bends the field around him.  At some points the halo surrounding the figure crackles with electric flashes whose ardor match that of the body.

In the halo’s dark singes it is difficult to determine whether each ray is a wayward flash straying outward from the body or if the body is attempting to collect loose bits of energy from the surrounding environment to concentrate and make possible that blinding flash of light that burns the parchment of our world.  The halo allows itself to radiate and dissipate outwards in a faint light to reveal the dark, unknown form that captivates our attention.

Cross-posted at the brand-new tirado/thrown tumblr. Be sure to visit there, too!


Last Week’s Links: January 5-10, 2009
What follows is the first shot at what is largely an attempt at offering frequent updates on some of the more interesting links making their way to the tirado/thrown desk.  Any suggestions for good links come to mind?  Please feel free to leave them in the comments.

Image: Screenshot of zigzagphilosophy.com, (2009).  Digital work by Angelo Plessas, found at Rhizome.

How do you say ‘mestizo’ in Russian?


Above is one of many images of Soviet playing cards bearing Maya-inspired illustrations from a post on EnglishRussia.com, as referred to tirado/thrown through a special informant.  

Aside from being visual delights, you are initially left trying to ask questions about their provenance, much less making the attempt to decipher them.  They merely rest taciturn, sphinx-like, callado, to whatever you attempt to ask yourself, because they are quite fascinating.  Whatever inspired the workers at the Soviet state enterprise responsible for producing these magnificent artifacts, they generated a pretty exquisite group of cards; they’re imaginative and downright noteworthy.   Who knows? Perhaps a bored KGB officer doing slop-work in 1950s Mexico City came across a deck of Aztec playing cards from Baraja Cuauhtemoc and passed over the naipes to an acquaintance at the state playing card factory in an act of camaraderie. 


The magic of cards like these is that they are portable pictograms giving the the gamepiece something more interesting to look  at and wonder about than a regular stack of casino cards.  Seriously, they beat the Grateful Dead Aztec-Inspired playing cards.  Want to get a sense for Mayan language and culture during a few hours off?  Take your card to the library and check it against a codex and lexicon!  To think that gambling implements could have the potential to be edifying!


Modernist flourishes on the Soviet cards such as the cats the queens hold in her hands speak of a mixture of ancient imagery and contemporary adaptation.   The distinct configurations of each of the two jokers in the deck speaks to the confluence of Mesoamerican and European at work in the deck.  The blue card seems to be rendered with a more appearance, while the red one seems almost Medieval European in a Mayan style, but I leave that up to experts to decide.



However, the images on the face cards are quite faithful to the drawings in codices: with respect to gestures, facial expressions, postures, decoration, and detail, which makes them all the more interesting to discover.

Still, the cards leave me with more questions than answers.  Is the existence of these cards a trace of a mestizaje in the USSR in the form of a curiously made instruments for everyday entertainment, or is it just a fluke of historical detritus washed ashore?  What do these items say about the way Soviets conceived the work of producing items for everyday life?  Why the odd reaction of being surprised at the discovery that Soviets (of all people-gasp!) produced these cards for everyday use when in the US typically has largely uniform face cards from a number of different companies, and when decorated cards would be only for serious gamers and sold as speciality items?  When will we see Mexican and Central-American takes on the matryoshka doll?  Or perhaps more symmetrically, could we find a Latin-American toy, like a balero, trompo, or loteria game festooned with Russian-style decorations? 

At some point, it would be great to give those Cuauhtemoc cards the kind of critical treatment they, as well as these Soviet ones, rightfully deserve.  For now, I am of mixed emotions.  At once I am unexplainably melancholy at seeing items produced by a now-lost regime bearing images from a destroyed civilization.  At the same time, I’m quietly joyful for their existence.


Image Credits- Maya Cards: Picdit, English Russia;Barajas Cuahtemoc: World of Trading Cards; Transcription of the Dresden Codex: FAMSI

Varnelis on the Closure of Post-Critical Architecture
November 24, 2008, 11:38 pm
Filed under: Aesthetics, Ideas, Politics | Tags: , , , , ,


Goodbye marketechture, um I mean, starchitechture: many hardly knew ye. 

At his blog, architecture theorist Kazys Varnelis shares some thoughts and questions on the post-critical moment in architecture, that lavish marriage of private wealth, tidal infusions of capital, technology, building, and design.  This movement might be mercifully on the wane, at least for the time being.  Varnelis summarizes:

Now that architecture has allied itself with a failed theory of the market, what will become of it? This isn’t an idle question. As society and culture reconfigure, an architecture that has little to offer except a direct representation of capital flows is unlikely to succeed. Moreover, the fascination that post-critical architects had with producing designs through software parallels the reduction of architecture to complex financial instruments that existed primarily in the network. This has already been called into question in the market. Architecture is, as usual, just a little behind.

The failure of markets to justly dispense goods and resources not only re-poses the question of a just political economy, but also with respect to the political significance of architecture.  Will we begin witnessing the dethronement of the starchitect as the paradigmatic figure of building and design in culture?  Can more critical perspectives on these relationships gain serious traction in architecture education, urban design, philosophy, and aesthetics?  I would like to believe so, and in the process make amends for fawning over the overwhelming and nearly stultifying triumphs of Gehry, Mirer, Koolhaas, and the market-driven architecture that defined my adolescence and early adulthood. [kazys.varnelis.net]

Image: The Frank Ghery designed Deutsche Bank building in Berlin.  As of this post, DB’s US stock closed today at $30.68 a share, down from a 52-week high of $135.49. Image source, Paw89, Flickr; stock source, Google Finance.

Mi Ranfla is More than a Ride: Cybernetics, Exhibition Value, Recognition, and Pride


Artist Ruben Ortiz Torres digs into his archives and offers his readers at For the Record a video piece entitled Custom Mambo (1992, 5 min., 13 sec).  It’s a marvelous study replete with kaleidoscopic imagery and multiple juxtapositions: Mexican folk iconography with 1950s and 60s American pop culture symbols, dancing cars set against women dancing at car shows, signs of the dangerous, furtive, and panicked border crossings contrasting the relaxed, low-and-slow car cruise.  Ortiz brings these signs of arrival into American consumer life, highlighting in them the desire for recognition in a cultural setting that relegates such ingenuity and communication to the margins of American culture.  Custom Mambo also shows the technology of low-rider culture to be a kind of proto-cybernetics, giving cars the capacity to take on human qualities of gesture, movement, and storytelling beyond through aesthetic intervention.  About these re-tooled, re-constituted wonders, Torres-Ortiz notes:

These “rides” constitute an effort to be noticed in a society that doesn’t want to see the people that ride them. I hope the video conveys the overwhelming experience of the Dyonisian “beauty” that escapes any notion of rationality and at the same time hints at some of the problems it raises.

Avoiding Lament with the Joy of the Unexpected

Mercury Fountain

It’s reasonable to suppose that a prompt report comes out of a moving encounter.  In that respect, I make a poor journalist.  But it also takes some time to make sense of what has moved the participant in an encounter.  

You & Me, Sometimes… is an exhibition obscuring the distinction between a private cabinet of curiosity and a curatorial project.  Sandra Antelo-Suarez, founder and editor of TRANS>, assembled an abundance of work and events from over twenty artists in the relatively small confines of a 1.5 floor gallery space.  In this collapse of idiosyncrasy and publicity was a play of discourse neither self-addressed nor intended towards an expectant public.  The press release was a friendly, colloquial, and outgoing letter from Antelo-Suarez to herself (“Sandy”) full of desire and warmth.  It’s a modified soliloquy ask its addressee to partake in her intense interest in the intersections of the social, political, and aesthetic.  The brief visits to the gallery bookending my short trip to New York City were among the most memorable and stimulating surprises.  You and Me, Sometimes… offered an opportunity to happen upon some new works and re-visit some familiar acquaintances in a renewed light. 

While there was more work than could be really taken in a short hour in the gallery, repeated visits were rewarded with events, stagings, and performances.  Among the work that I was able to take in , highlights included a mix of old and new.  Six of Francisco de Goya’s Caprichos lined the foyer’s main wall, including El sueno de la razon produce monstruos.  Arguably, these little pieces were the signs that informed the driving sensibility of You & Me, Sometimes…, where art lingers beside and cuts across quotidian existence.   (Could it be possible that these little pieces influenced the work of a certain Mexican printmaker born twenty-four years after Goya’s death?  Art historians, please let me know.) Paul Ramirez-Jonas‘s work dealt with the potentialities of communication amid the apparatus that purports to aid us in communicating.  (Hopefully, a quick piece on some of his pieces at the show will come in a later post.)  Various works by Alexander Calder in the show jump between formalist and political, such as Three Segments and and his ads protesting the Vietnam War and the abuses of power perpetrated by the Nixon administration. These currents cross in the model of Mercury Fountain on display aside the Caprichos.  Minerva Cuevas contributed her unflinching critiques of concentrated corporate wealth and colonialist power through her multi-media works, including a staging of the Mejor Vida Corporation‘s Donald McRonald intervention outside the Union Square McDonald’s on April 25.  Finally, Fresa Salvaje brought together selected sounds of forgotten latin music that became recognizable upon hearing, courtesy of Aldo Sanchez (aka DJ Papichulo) and Dulce Pinzón.  When not doing their selecting and spinning, Sanchez is an independent curator, and Pinzón is a photographer recognized for her outstanding 2006 photographs, Los Superheroes.  

Both the general form the show took and the variety of works and artists on display illuminate questions about the act of selecting pieces for display and their organization under the designation ‘taste’.   A couple of weeks ago, a short discussion concerning the connections between taste, knowledge, and experience prompted speculation the definition of the term ‘taste’.  Carolina pointed out “a possible relation between sabor (taste, flavor) and saber (knowledge). ¿A qué sabe? What does it taste like? Tasting as a form of knowledge.”  The connection is quite palpable in Spanish, but not so in English.  One does not say in English that a lemon knows sour.  (Jose Iraola’s Simultaneous Translation on display vaguely illustrates the phenomenon of how translation can turn into a game of telephone.)


This speculation on the relation between knowledge and experience quickly led down a rehashing of Kantian contradictions without resolution that were just unproductive.  But some further thinking and a serendipitous reading of The Origin of Philosophy by that philosophical Goya, José Ortega y Gasset, offered a possible clue.  In a discussion of the thinker as a social figure, he takes an effortless etymological detour into the common Indo-European root of the terms of wisdom, knowledge and savoring (tasting) that have left their traces in ourmodern languages.  His discussion suggests is that taste is less about a possessed knowledge, but an exposure to openness “…always referring, however, to a non-theoretical, still non-existent type of knowledge.” (116)   From this suggestion we can imply that taste is the possibility that artistic production can convey both the knowledge of producing beautiful sense experiences and sense experiences whose beauty make knowing more knowable.  And it’s that very simple possibility that resides throughout You & Me, Sometimes…: that contact with the very edge of another’s sensibility can yield knowledge about the world we inhabit and the way we approach it.

How can I not end a post without a video?  It’d be cruel of me to not do so.  It’s the least I can do to reward your having made it from one end of the post to the other without clicking out. Here’s some priceless footage of Camilo Sesto meeting his promotional obligations for a then freshly-cut record, Solo un Hombre.  Check out Fresa Salvaje.  You & Me, Sometimes… ends Saturday, May 3.