Exercise

by thomasmagnahastings

What happens when the work of art – that ‘expensive hunk of well-regulated area’ – is outwardly emptied of its metaphysical content, the ‘content’ we prize beyond surface materiality – wood, steel, stone – and above the ‘visionary’ artist’s actual imprint? [1]

What if, instead of treating this material surface as a translucent screen to be peeled away, revealing the valorised quota of ‘universal truth’ contained within but, crucially, not equal to, the object’s outward form, our gaze and judgment purposefully, deliberately, rested on the surface: spreading a shimmering coat like an exquisite pond skater?

Could we purge our vision of its iconographical training, its tendency to metonymically enlarge from an object’s historical allotment, whereby a Judd cube sculpture cites a Piet Mondrian painting which in turn catalogues a set of colours and shapes, thus channelling a tactile model of vision predating modern history etc. etc. etc… What if, fatigued by our impulse to auto-genealogize when face-to-face with a work (because it makes us feel comfortable and clever), we made an attempt to close down this lexicon of inevitably unfolding image-signs, and instead, unnatural though it may seem to be, relax our expert eyes, allow our gaze to float upon the textured surface whilst making an effort to go no further.

We skate, eyeing around the brushstrokes or concrete, seeking some kind of entry-point into the work. But no! We do not want to lose ourselves in the object, to be returned transformed and inflected by the artist’s nurturing vision. That is not the point of this exercise. Instead, keep circulating, keep moving and, by suspending your gaze a millimetre-length film from the actual materials of the object, pond skater that you have become, you might be able to keep hold of whatever agenda you call your own.


[1] Farber, Manny, ‘White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art’, Negative Space: Manny Farber on the

Movies, Praeger (1971) p. 135

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