Comment Crisis

Sorry! Blogspot makes it almost impossible for real people to comment directly at the end of each post.
Your feedback is welcome via Google+, the SLArtsParks page on Facebook, or tweet #slartsparks or @thirzaember.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pixels in the City: Volume control

Oberon Onmura is a very patient man. I sipped my coffee and sulked.
"It's just they're so precious and aloof about it all," I said, trying to keep my voice down. "This whole hushed hallowed atmosphere is ludicrous - especially after coming from the Met, where you can take all the pictures you want of Van Goghs and Picassos, it seems absurdly overprotective of shapes and forms that you can see - well, anywhere. On the rail track, in the sky, or just staring for too long at a blank wall."
We were at a minimalist art gallery, a short train ride up the Hudson River valley from New York. The gallery is in a converted Nabisco factory, and frankly I would have preferred a nice packet of Triscuits over the stark and often rubbishy works I was looking at - fluorescent tubes in unappealing hues, bits of grubby white paper tacked up on the walls, and, worst of all, some Japanese dude who occasionally painted the date on a bit of old canvas, and collected them. The blurb for this installation teetered between the outrageously ironic and deadly awestruck. It even described how the 'chosen font' had changed over the years, and the 'amazing' two canvasses painted... whoa! in the same day! The best part was the revelation that they were pumping ionized air into the room - but whether we could tell or not, was part of the 'experiential aura'. Andy Warhol said art is anything you can get away with, but the feeling of the Emperor's New Clothes seemed to scream off every wall. Less daft by a long chalk, yet still slightly pointless to me, was Walter De Maria's Silver Meters, a stainless steel square with silver dots on it. There's a gold version too.
I hadn't got it yet.  I asked Oberon why he is such a fan of WDM, and how it relates to his own art.
Oberon Onmura:  Well I should say de Maria's my hero, but I realize much of his work is of its time. I love the  New York Earth Rooma friend of mine has been caretaking it for almost 30 years. To understand WDM, you have to think about "The Lightning Field". I'm going out there one day. What De Maria is doing is taking "nature" and focusing us on it as a product of human interaction. There is no "nature" except as humans define it. It's more than 'sticks in the desert' as you define it, and he's not trying to copyright nature - it's WDM's reaction to lightning.
We agreed to disagree about the fluorescent light guy. Oberon's own install, 'Transitions', currently at Two Fish, takes light sources and individual interaction to another level. He, too, is deeply interested in weight and form, not telling a story but presented to the senses directly. 'Transitions' elevates an ordinary shape into an absorbing notion of intersection and change. Plus the colours are beautiful. Perhaps the fluorescent light guy would have done the same, if he had had the technology. That's a lot of butcher's shop bulbs, though.
Oberon Onmura: I have a soft spot for compulsives - do you remember Fred Sandback's work? He's the guy that created space with long strands of yarn. Another hero.What I value about all of that work is that it's about something. It's not about "communication" - it's not about "human emotion": those can be falsified easily and often are. It's about space, color, emptiness, weight - mass, volume. In other words, reality brought into sharp focus, so we can see it too. I wish they had a way to show James Turrell, or Robert Smithson.
There is a Turrell at the Hirshhorn Gallery in Washington, where Milk Run, a literally pitch black room, is part of the ColorForms exhibition. Eventually you 'rez' in real life - you become aware of the dimensions of the room and light beams in different colours - I only really saw the red and white, but there are supposed to be other shades - after being in the room for a good five minutes. As the volume control of your own senses makes its idiosyncratic ascent from confusion to some sort of meaning, you can't help but be charmed, opened by the sensation. Now that's immersive. At Oberon's install 'Plaza', currently at Imopcahe explained some more.
Oberon Onmura:  I like these pieces for the same reason I like Indian classical music. Indian classical music is about the reality of the harmonic series and how it connects us to the universe, if we get it right. So think about those white painting you hated, by Robert Ryman. They're not really white, by the way. They're "white" but they're also "used". Think about obsession.What does an artist do, in the end? An artist lives his/her  life and spits it out the other end -  digested. Realized. It's not about being 'good at drawing'. Matisse couldn't draw at all. Artists tend not to be deep or smart. Most artistic expression, especially about "issues", is pretty lame - simple minded, obvious. You might not like 'blank pieces of paper', yet here we are, talking about it. What I trust is reaction, artists live and react by spitting out artwork. I trust that reaction - that's where the "meat" is. Matisse spent over 30 years working and reworking a single bas relief - "Back". He wasn't expressing anything, he was trying to figure out how to model in plaster what he saw - he was reacting to shape, mass, form and spent decades trying to spit it out the other end. Ultimately, he didn't care what you or I saw in it, and if you look at the final 4 results, you see how an actual artist sees the world. I trust that. It makes me jealous.
Minimalism, like pretentious aloofness, is possible in Second Life, although you see a lot more of the latter than the former. In my conversation with Oberon, I continued to battle with it, mostly with the 'specialness' of the art. Can't many of the items on show at Beacon be found in - nature, I was going to say, but of course all art is that, from a Michelangelo  to a Cartier-Bresson; what irks is the lack of 'craft', no, because the men who lay down railway sleepers with such pleasing precision are craftsmen, artists - it's just that they don't present themselves as such. Is artistic identity that deeply rooted in self promotion? The old rats vs squirrels paradigm?
Then minimalism suddenly broke through, like the light of stars, an ancient illumination. At the Hirshhorn, this is Fred Sandback's '12 Part Vertical composition'. You can walk among the strings and as you do, your eyes - no, your peripheral vision - invents walls or mirrors, discrete spaces. A dialogue begins between sight and mind.
Not as elegantly lit as it would be in SL, of course, but until that 3D viewer comes out, RL wins on this one.
Oberon Onmura: I can tell you this. A long time ago when I worked for Dia, I had a life changing experience. I was working for the Lamonte Young project,  he's a composer: his "master" was an Indian singer named Pandit Pran Nath;one of the world's greatest artists. Anyway,I was the recording engineer. We were preparing for a concert. I was up in the booth, the mics were on at the stage, and Pran Nath was tuning the tambouras. I could hear everything, I was doing odd things, not really listening closely. He kept tuning the tamboura, adjusting the "buzziness" of the strings, It was taking forever. I said to myself "Come on - it's in tune already!" but he kept tuning and then, suddenly, the damn thing WAS IN TUNE! The air in the room changed. I had to sit down. Everything lined up somehow. That's magical. I even saw changes in the needles on the recorders and when he sang, being "in tune" was the whole thing, pretty much. The thing about minimalist art is that everything has to be perfect. It changed the way I looked at everything, and SL has done it again. Heh.

1 comment:

jay2 said...

this is really great article. I love conceptual art and minimalism- and its really true that it kind of has to be perfect or its nothing - that's why its so difficult, which is why its interesting.