Friday, January 24, 2014

The limits of measurement are shown in Paul Glabicki's 'Relativity' drawings at Kim Foster Gallery

Paul Glabicki’s hyper-intellectual drawings derive from his experimental films.  At Kim Foster Gallery (which just seems to put up one amazing show after another) Glabicki has now created various drawings around the scientific theme of ‘relativity.’  So the basic idea seems to be to provide parallel images, both showing a relationship to each other, but yet also betraying some significant difference due to differences in the frame of reference of perception and experience.  Relativity, of course, indicates that to the person perceiving or experiencing a situation, what he/she sees or experiences may seem real, but it may conflict with the experiences and accounts of others.

Although Paul Glabicki’s amazing experimental films (he began making them 35 years ago) are in the process of being preserved, there are few of them I have been able to find online.  From what I can remember of his films, (seen mostly, in the past, at Experimental Film Coalition screenings at the Randolph Street Gallery in Chicago) Glabicki seems to present, in rapid succession, various scientific equations, meaningful scientific images (Muybridge photos of walking men come to mind) and various attempts at measurement. 

For the most part the images and equations and measurements go by so quickly that you cannot focus on any particular one of these for any length of time.  The point seems to be that Glabicki is inviting you not to focus on individual equations or images but to contemplate an underlying nature behind these symbols of science. He seems to be validating and rejecting these symbols at the same time. The symbols have worth, in a limited application, but the method is not applicable, say, to introspection or examination of our inner motives, emotions and thought processes. Glabicki’s work, to me, always invited a greater scrutiny of the process of science while also inviting a look at what science might not be capturing but which needs to be experienced and grasped through some deeper process on an individual basis.

The equations, symbols and measurements become, basically, dead but functional statements for the understanding and manipulation of the outer world. They are formulas as much as Nordic runes were.  Sir James Frazer, after all, pointed out that science was, basically, magical formulae that always ‘worked’ in the world and that magic and science both contained the same basic logical structure. These attempts to document events in the outer world become insufficient, however, to fully examine the inner world. 

In the films of Glabicki, and, I believe, in his drawings, scientific formulae, geometric shapes, grids, patterns of dots etc. themselves become symbols of a type of cognition that can draw us farther away from meaningful introspection and leave us lost outside of ourselves.  He shows how semiotics can become a type of trap.  He seems to point out that all of our symbols derive from the outer world and are insufficient for us to perceive the inner world.  Ultimately, after a painstaking commitment to semiotics, we are invited to leave it for something better. The pattern we are left with in his drawings is almost like a work of process art in which Glablicki drips shapes and grids the way Pollock dripped paint.  Occasionally, in his new set of drawings, we will even see a dash of color obscuring a grid-like pattern of dots, or some shapes, as if the artist is overtly saying – ignore the grid, ignore measurement, look inside!

Of course, like in his films, it is simply impossible to focus on all of the detailed shapes, colors, angles, grids etc.  You have to take the whole image in the way you might take in a painting by Pollock. Pollock, of course, was more interested in expressing than representing, so we can also ask to what extent is  Glabicki attempting to represent something and to what extent is he expressing, instead.   An attempt to treat a Glabicki work as if it were purely representational and to really analyze particular aspects of the piece will, literally, lead you in circles in, for instance, Glabicki’s Relativity #1.  

Again, Glabicki does not seem to be asking the viewer to read the individual symbols, he is inviting a comprehensive look at the nature of measurement and the recording of information, but - as it is experienced subjectively.  By using the concept of relativity, he seems to make this more apparent, because you know that you can and cannot ‘trust’ the images any more.  We are compelled to ask “Whose images are these?” more than “Are these images exact representations of reality?”  The grids are, in fact, now crooked, some shapes seem to go through a type of repetition in which they ultimately disappear.  We also have to ask: Just what kind of experience is being represented here by two differing sources? 

In the drawings you see dual attempts to experience and represent the same ‘something’.  So the artist also questions whether there is an underlying reality behind these dual attempts to grasp something. We assume there is, but inherent in the concept of relativity there is a loss of objective reality or a loss of the concept of the ‘thing in itself.’  Indeed, Glabicki might be asking whether this question is even legitimate given the fact that regardless of the relativity of experience, we are compelled to engage in the process of sifting through and making sense of experience.  Perhaps these drawings point to the fact that the true reality is in having the same motive to experience and the same desire to represent as everyone – the subjective process becomes more important than the outcome and Glabicki reflects this inner need to experience, comprehend and transcend perfectly in his current pieces.

An experimental film by Glabicki: 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Conceptual Word Art by Motoko Hoshi at 'hpgrp Gallery' in Manhattan

At the group show called Zero Art Japan, at hpgrp Gallery, I found a couple interesting pieces by a Japanese artist named Motoko Hoshi. 

She uses four kanji characters per piece, yet each kanji character can have multiple meanings.  For instance the character to the upper left corner can mean: peace, Japan, the sun or compromise.  The character next to it can mean: mind, heart, spirit or core. The character to the lower left can mean: start, develop or departure.  The character to the lower right can mean: go, advance, pass or passage. (I do not know how to read Japanese so I apologize if I got this slightly wrong.)

Here is, actually, an interesting quote from the Japan Times about Motoko's work:

As a former advertising copywriter, Hoshi recalls being regularly bedeviled by the rhetorical complexity of written Japanese and struggling to overcome its occasional untranslatability. This occupational frustration eventually paved the way for her years-long quest as an artist of finding a universally comprehensible way to express Japanese kanji. Hence her invention of a quasi-poem typological art called motokotoba. Typically, she selects four kanji characters per piece, and prints them in a striking way so that onlookers can enjoy guessing their meanings, which brings them above linguistic limitations.
(From: )

So each piece can have different meanings based on how you choose to interpret each kanji character.  Yet, Motoko also invites the viewer to not only choose individual meanings for individual characters, but also to then combine the meanings in various manners to create different narratives, or thoughts or concepts.  Indeed, the straight lines radiating out from each central box indicate that the character within the box can be combined in any direction with another character.  She invites you to read the characters horizontally, vertically, diagonally or just randomly.

So the multiple lines represent a type of map that a person can use to go from one kanji character to the next to derive ever changing meanings from the piece. So the number of possible stories from one piece would involve all the combinations of the different meanings of each character and all the possible combinations of the four characters. 

Someone I know looked at the piece above and said, "I understand what it can mean!  If you have some type of meaningful goal, this will require an immense amount of psychological preparation and only then should a person make the physical effort to acquire the resources to accomplish the goal."  So that would be one of numerous possible interpretations. 

What's interesting to me is whether a person will continually derive meanings that reinforce what the person already believes, or would it be possible to come up with an entirely new concept or new insight by studying such a work? This could be a central question that the artist is asking: when we read a text, how much of our reading is an active type of construction, how much is self-reinforcement of what we already believe and how much is truly transformational?

What I also think is interesting is that these works seem to be based around the number four.  The same person who gave me the interpretation above told me that she likes the number four because it indicates stability.  An animal moves on four legs, a table stands on four legs; also if you look at a pyramid from above, you see that the structures around each word, in Motoko's piece, are pyramidal - a pyramid has four sides.  Here's the "Great Pyramid" from above:

In the ancient world people often looked for geographical features that seemed salient or special and they accorded special spiritual or magical meaning to these places.  Mountains, for instance, were special places because they extended far up into the sky.  To the ancient Egyptians, the pyramid was a type of specially constructed symbolic mountain that was meant to facilitate the journey of the soul of the Pharoah to the next world - it was a structure meant to literally elevate his soul.

So using the number four and the pyramidal shape in relation to words adds extra meanings to each piece.  There is an underlying stability to each piece that is not belied by the ever changing possibilities for interpretation and each word is, basically, elevated beyond it's normal usage by the underlying structure of the piece and a special combination or relationship with other words.

I know that in Native American art, as well (especially Sioux art), the number 4 was important because there are four cardinal directions (N,S,E,W).  If I recall correctly, the Sioux structured visual pieces around this concept and often only used four colors in their visual images.

Here's the other piece Motoko had at hpgrp Gallery:

Here she uses just one kanji character but there is an extra kind of hidden meaning in the piece.  The central character means 'go' or 'exit.'  Yet, it is also surrounded by a white square.  When you combine the central kanji character with the white square, you, apparently, get a sentence - there is, in fact, a kanji character that is a square.  (Again, I do not speak Japanese so I am writing what I understood when this was explained to me.)  So at first glance, if you look at this piece quickly, you will just see the central character.  Yet, if you look more closely and catch the 'hidden' kanji character, you now perceive a sentence which seems to be: There is a way out!  or: It is possible to leave!

Here is the link to the entire show:

There are numerous works of art in this show by various Japanese artists and the building this gallery is in also contains several other really fine galleries worth visiting.

Here is a link about Motoko at hpgrp:

Here's a photo of Motoko and me at the opening.  The photo is a little dark, but I think you can see the two pieces she contributed to the show.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Kyoshi Nakagami's experiments with light and darkness at Galerie Richard

In his show at Galerie Richard, we see that Kyoshi Nakagami is doing something really unique with light.

He’s no where near to using the usual way that light is revealed in a painting in the western tradition. Of course, this would be expected from someone who has been classified as a ‘Nihonga’ artist – someone who deliberately hearkens back to a non-western, more purely Japanese style.  Nihonga art, apparently, strives to reveal ‘essences’ and not outer appearances. 

What he does with light, though, goes even beyond the Nihonga tradition.  He shows those qualities and aspects of light, in itself, that allow it to become meaningful to us on a deeper or symbolic level.  He shows us what it is about light that makes light such an important symbol in our religions, mythologies and philosophies.  Basically he seems to be saying “This is the essence of how light is most meaningful to us”  – and he further plays with light and darkness to tweak this “archetypal” relationship and make it more direct and engaging to the viewer. 

How has light usually been revealed in western art?  Well, to cite two famous examples we can think about Vermeer revealing light as an aspect of a particular moment as it floods through a window and fills up a room.  Light, in this case, brightens everything to a super-clarity. Light magnifies the transience of the moment.  Monet often showed light during the course of a day.  The intensity of the light was purely dependent upon the passing of time.  Nakagami is, however, painting a type of pure light in itself, not reflected off of any real, physical surface. It is not light attached to a specific time or place. 

You could almost say he’s painting light as a concept. He’s painting what we tend to do to light to make it more meaningful to ourselves.  This is not natural light in a natural environment.  The darkness is not an absence of light, but an actual type of frothy gunk, sometimes columns of frothy gunk, that is illuminated, parted, dispersed.  Yet, to say that he’s painting a concept of light is also misleading because these paintings grab you on a deeper level.  

What he does to this basic contrast of light and darkness allows for such an immediate engagement that one does not waste time conceptualizing. Susan Sontag warned against interpretation since it tends to divorce one from the piece of art. These paintings do not even allow you to intellectualize them.  Like the best works of abstraction, they resonate with you and you grasp the deeper meaning the artist is shooting for without over-intellectualization. If you can go to Galerie Richard and stand in front of one of these paintings in silence, I believe you will feel a meaningful engagement with this work.  Light and darkness is such a primal form of symbolism, that with Nakagami’s tweaking, you get that mountain-top ‘a-ha!’ feeling.

In the notes to the show, Galerie Richard points out that if these light paintings were vertically rectangular, they would be interpreted as religious in orientation, and if they were horizontally rectangular, they would be misconstrued as landscapes.  Nakagami’s work definitely does stand in between orthodox religion and insipid secularism.  It’s an attempt at a reconnection with nature as a source of spiritual self-understanding.  You see something ‘natural’ that compels you to recognize a parallel with your own deep, inner experiences.  In the past, before cities, people sought out  ‘sacred’ places based on salient geological features.  Nakagami creates a type of super-nature that provides a sacred experience on a canvas for the viewer.  The light in his paintings cannot be facilely ‘conceptualized’ as ‘the truth.’  We see a process in the outer world that mirrors one in our inner lives and which remains unarticulated.  The light is a component of this process.  Is the light dispersing the clouds of darkness?  Is it merely illuminating the clouds so that we see our own inner ‘dark-matter’? 

Galerie Richard has distinguished itself again as one of Manhattan’s more cutting edge galleries for the latest experiments in abstraction.