The Stepford Wives (1975) and the ambient/sentient horror of the double.

Rev. Apr 22, 2019.

It is possible that I have found a missing link between two issues of filmmaking in the 70s that have been of interest to me. One, I have long wondered how it was that mainstream movie making in the era developed such an obtuse, scrambled, lazy style, which you can see in so many movies of the time. Then, two, I have of late put my finger on a subgenre group of low-budget 70s and 80s horror movies where the scare source is kept off screen for the whole movie, resulting in an emptied out, cryptic visuality that communicates in every frame that what you are seeing is not what is happening, and I have found this to be related to the fact that the scares are sentient in nature, therefore, coming in from way outside, this in movies like disconnected (1984) but also The Cremators (1974). In The Stepford Wives (1975), it is possible that these two trends come together, to allow of an explanation of for why movies looked the way they looked back then.

The Stepford Wives (1975), indeed, is always communicating that there is something happening which you are not seeing on screen, and it does this by emptied out, oblique filming of scenes. The movie opens with a distant shot of Katharine Ross, who outshines everybody else in the movie by a lot, somewhat vacating by her glare the center too, sitting forlorn at the window of her city apartment, about to say goodbye for good, always a sad moment

a 1she is still completely preoccupied in the car.

a 2but, then, as they wait for the husband to come down, the movie resorts to symbolism, with a sense of foreshadow, and lookback too, it even speaks to the moment, for Ross. When the daughter tells the dad that she just saw a man carrying a naked woman, he quips, that’s why we are moving to stepford, ie we’re getting away from city crazies; then, there is irony in it, because, of course, that’s what they are driving precisely into, in Stepford, making women as mannequins; and, no doubt, Ross saw it, and saw in it, her, being dragged out of the city against her will, a woman succumbing to the will of the man and the running of the family. As such, then, this is a hecateaen, three-way image, placed at the edge of their city experience, it warns.

a 3but it is also an emptied out image, and when Ross shows up at the new house, which is a nice one, it is also, to her, all empty, as this shot indicates the power of the imprisoning bannister, and the nature of a haunted house that she will never feel comfortable in.

a 4the first bit of neighborliness comes by way of the wife across the street, she carries a casserole over, and then disappears in the woods, where she came from, here one minute, gone the next, like an unreal thing. This suggests that she lives in ambient space, that is, outside of social space, it even suggests her as a kind of nature nymph, a being expressing man’s needs, in a magical way, not an actual social human being

a 5later, Ross tries to take back the casserole pot but is stopped, again at long range, from across the street, by seeing the husband come out to the gardening wife, and just grab her breasts from behind, she making no gesture of dispute, it’s part of the job of an acquiescing wife.

a 6from afar, Ross is actually surprised, somewhat amused, maybe a little shocked, but in the sense that she is a college educated modern liberal 70s women’s lib woman and it shocks her that some women are still so trapped in the past, in a preliberated state, that they are free to fondle whensoever the husband wishes.

a 7So, she is separated from whatever it is that is going on here, by an ambient distance, and the answer seems to lie even further out, away from her. In social scenes, this then sets up an open-ended kind of depiction of the world, with people walking through or around things in an ungainly almost unplanned way, as when husband and others come to see if the casserole wife is ok after getting her car rearended, I mean, can you imagine filming a scene like this? and telling the actors how it will go down, it is just really pulled apart.

a 8but then this pulled apart quality is contrasted pretty quickly with a circle the wagon close the circle kind of exaggerated bowling pin shot of old, to show the closing of the ranks, the artificial social cohesion of the robots, the wives. Like this

a 9if I can jump ahead this effect is even more attenuatively played out in another scene when the same casserole wife goes on the fritz, then has to be shushed out so no one knows, at O’Neal’s pool party. It seems to proceed like any party, but the men of the club are making a show of being there, but not talking to each other.

a 10then, it is suggested by this shot, which is a classic lattice shot, everything, by the inference of the shot, part of her mind, that the wives of the club members are like potted plants or garden statuary at the event, and not really there to mingle with the real human beings. This odd space behind a building also has the nature of an ambient space that means nothing at other times, only activated by a party, so her life as party animal is even doubly doubtful, a third time that in this shot Ross and Prentiss (center) are coming through up to say something to her.

a 11but elsewhere, at the party, it is as if no one pays them any attention, they are not there, in a real way

a 12then she goes on the fritz, something about having to get that recipe, she begins to repeat it over and over again, she circles around about the outside of the party, down a terrain that would not normally be part of the party, to come in on it from as it were a back door, in a ritualized way. But the strange thing about this shot is that O’Neal is in it, and he has obviously seen her, and knows exactly what is coming, because he gets up, but as if entirely disguising the fact that it is due to or in response to her, he is just casually “there is no problem” mixing, but they now do a strange dance on the camera

a 13the party is spread out enough that her repeating her chatty remark gets no attention, because its repetition is out of earshot of those who heard it previously.

a 14but the husband quickly intervenes and she is shushed away,

a 15in this case, as in the previous, it is exploitation of the spread out nature of social space today, in suburbia, that allows the deception to exist, and it is by filming the interaction of the robot and the space, the robot moving through the space in an ambient circle outside the norms of social interaction, that the shots convey the idea that, we see what we are seeing, but we are not being shown all that we need to see.

This continues in a more straightforward way when Ross and Prentiss barge into a house, to ask the wife to join their group, so another coming through the door shot

a 16only then to be paused by hearing sex cheering from the wife during sex coming from the vacancy of the stairway, the nothingness on screen.

a 17their lives in general are all spread out, if there is somewhere they need to go, they just call across to a helper, and off they go

a 18they then see things in passing, from the road

a 19But, now, having set up the wide ambient spin, which serves to obscure the truth of the scenes, suggesting that the truth lies still further out, in some sentient zone, it is also true that the negative space character of the movie infiltrates the very center of the movie, and even Ross herself, who is fighting hard, but, perhaps, already losing. I caught some micro-details in an apparently merely scenic sequence in the middle of the movie, which shows what a good mother she is. She is sitting in front of the fireplace, in her robe, likely after a bath or shower, because naked underneath, and she is going through some of her photos, and tearing a good number of them up, tossing them into the fire. That itself is a symbolic act, but she is watched over by a totem, it is a folk art doll, with an emptied out hoop skirt-accomodating structure below.

a 20here is a better shot of it.

a 21in the movie, this kind of serves as an effigy of her predicament, therefore, a predicament object, she likes it because it speaks to her, but what it speaks to her is not positive, but negative. So, here it is activated in this next scene. Because Ross hears her daughter call, so gets up, and as she gets up, her robe parts, she moves fast, almost running, for it to expose her whole right leg, right up to her crotch

a 22then as the other foot comes in, it is pretty much full exposure, or as full exposure as a woman of her status will give, that is, she is a liberated woman who completely takes for granted her physical prowess and thus has no sense of the effect she has around her. But in the micro language of movies, this much exposure says that she is losing the war, she will die, alas, that’s what it means.

a 23then even for something as intimate as calming her daughter, we have another odd doorway shot, just coming in, in the shadow, into an undefined, uncultured, unmoved into space

a 24it is just as oblique when, after she hears hubby come in, she goes down, in a gown prowl, usually for a who’s there, or to see a ghost.

a 25her predicament is made even worse when the husband invites the men’s club over for a drink and a meeting and she asks to sit in, they say sure. But, it is odd, though I wonder if in the mid70s it was even noticed that she is braless, and her left nipple is quite sharply pricking her dress (she earlier made a comment as a joke that she was not so radical as to be ready to burn her Maidenform, that is how the chatter of the time cheapens discourse, but by and large she is woman who follows contemporary fashion of the time, which featured most of the time no bras). But, in retrospect, this attractiveness in this setting, makes her a bit of a target for the men’s gazes.

a 26then, the meeting starts, but from the start it almost sounds like it was staged as a pretext to provide a pencil artist to undertake a task of some undiscerned process which has something to do with changing her, or overtaking her, with gaze. Throughout the meeting, in a very casual, this is what I do, I am an artist, I can’t help it way, he draws her, as she models, sitting silent, uninvolved, unconsulted by any of the men, and she is subjected to his perfectionist gaze

a 27the fact that the drawing montages by dissolve into or over her, to signify that it is the central object of the meeting, boring the truth of the meeting into her attempt to look like she is paying attention to the meeting, and not distracted by his doing a drawing of her, captures perfectly her conflicted situation. And we would have no idea thus far that there was any second or ulterior motive in this gathering, an event to get her to sit for him, without realizing that that is what she is doing.

a 28his gaze, over that wire, again reinforces this event as the real reason for the meeting

a 29then there is a bit of a montage as she is effaced to the cycloptic, the one-eyed monster, by drinking up to the ice in the bottom of her empty glass

a 30and we see a study of her eye, over her, as if a premonition, again, we hardly know, of her real eye by an artificial one

a 31and then it is as if she is processed through his drawing effort, and at last signified as the center of the event, the real reason for doing it, as she is now captured in her full gaze, the big beautiful eyes that Ross was known for, now foreshadowing her takeover

a 32with a dissolve of those eyes over it all again making the point that they are talking about nothing, so that one of them can start the witchcraft by sitting there getting the base image of her best look to start the process of turning her into a robot, by their art

a 33she later recognizes his art, and is charmed to receive the drawing, one presumes he has another, and knowing that he was primarily, the suggestion is, an artist like Vargas who did voluptuous creamy women in seductive poses in men’s magazines, she says, “you blighted my adolescence,” a joke, but she does not know that it has come back to get her again.

a 34but she takes the picture in, and she likes it, who wouldn’t?

a 35but soon after, taking off her makeup, her face also drops, as she complains what bores they were, what a terrible time that was, why are they ? this is awful, the drawing shunted to the side, she was just being sociable, as women sometimes have to do

a 36later, when Tina Louise is turned we see where the drawings are, as part of the witchcraft. That is, she has been turned, she now lives her life in her house like a housewife of old, she therefore has to have a best image of her put up in a central place, like an eidol, but without the intercession, that is, it is an exploitational eidol, a rubber stamp imposed upon her by a greater power, molding her in their image, this is that evil eidolsploitation image

a 37Just to indicate that Prentiss is in shock to be talking to a woman who was sassy and irreverent last week but now is turned into a housewife zombie, we have a bit of art byplay as this broken guitar speaks both to her suspicion that something is wrong, and to the idea that if at one point this picture served Louise as an image of defiance, that she was not one to play to anyone else’s tune, no one was going to play her like a guitar, now that independence is gone, she has been converted into the drawing, even as if doing her hair by it.

a 38so a drawing becomes not only a foreshadow in a symbolic sense, or a prescriptive eidol exploited by power to force an image on an underling, it is actually, somehow, part of the process. My guess, given that O’Neal worked at Disney, that it is some sort of animatronic vision, the drawing is the model they start with, her at her best

a 39then Prentiss, to Ross’s horror, gets the treatment too

a 40funnily raising her head as a zombie from out of the refrigerator, Ross then, in a very slinky 70s dress, no bra, has no idea what is awaiting her

a 41So, somehow, the drawing is part of the recipe. Another part of it was that the men had to come by the bedroom, to make a copy of the bedroom. This part, I do not quite understand. Why would they need a copy of the bedroom? Maybe to “train” the animatronic in its limited abilities, focused on the giving of sex whenever the man desires it. Then, almost in passing, there is a third thing, she has to record her voice saying a whole protocol of words; she does it, thinking it is for a hobbyhorse study by one of the guys, but it is to program her. Then, when in the finale she runs in the night to the clubhouse, she is lead to O Neal’s office by the attraction of the tape recorder, that is, it is indeed another step in the process, the robot or whatever now equipped both with her likeness from that drawing and her voice from that recording. Note the Franz Kline like painting, it seems to serve as a message that we are passing over, that the final transformation is being undertaken

a 42here it is earlier

a 43there seems to be other art

a 44but she is now left to explore and discover her room, exact copy, why?

a 45it is a copy, set into the bigger room

a 46then, at last, she meets her copy. My guess is that, sitting at this boudoir, in her nightgown, in a three mirror mirror, a hecatean figure, she is in the process of being trained in some way to be a woman with a very limited repertore of interests and actions. Most of her actions would have to do with prettifying herself for his pleasure, so she is deep in it.

a 47but when disturbed, she looks at Ross, but has black eyes. Black eyes. They are such a long-term trope, what they mean is soullessness, nothing there. She sees with them, but she sees in a limited way perhaps (maybe she sees in a black out only). She sees Ross

a 48Ross sees her, her eyes all but falling off her face to the side

a 49Then gaze that gazes back is not the black eyes but the one-eyed monster of horror, sex, it has been intentional, the show of Ross’s modest chest, in modern dress, a classic 70s natural look beauty, but now her form in a robot model will be slightly enhanced in a retrograde way so that she has more breast and can therefore be more physically pleasing to her husband. The fact that this is a bullet breast with the nipple all but searching for her, like a hunt dog, emphasizes this even more.

a 50then the automaton stands up, and she is nude under a gown that shows everything, including below

a 51this is some serious thigh gap, as it is called now

a 53and her black eye is profiled and reinforced by echolation, like in a pornographic magazine, by the equal black spot of her pubic bush below, at that time emphasizing as a shot that she will die, Ross, that is.

a 54then, in all but a nude shot, emphasizing that in her revised edited retrogressive self sex has been placed back in the number one position as the number one thing men want of women, but we see now that she is to use her stocking to strangle Ross. This too is witchcraft I do not quite understand. Having had the drawing made, as a blueprint, then reverse engineered for it a better, sexier body; then programmed into her a recording of her voice; then trained her in her limited scripts in life in a model of her bedroom; she is now to complete the process by strangling the subject, presumably by it to capture her soul into her, for her eyes to then suddenly turn into something that looks more like Ross.

a 55except we see at the end, they are dead eyes.

a 56For me, this is too little explication, there would be more, even if only a little bit more, if this was really a horror movie. As is, the movie left us hanging, without explanation. It also more or less left the solving of the problem to the very last of the last reel, like the sentient movies I have liked from the time.  Throughout, its reference to the horror was oblique and ambient, at times, in terms of actually telling us what the men are up to, the reasoning was sentient, sometimes, as in the meeting scene, with him drawing her, directly misdirecting our attention; at other times, as in the men stopping by one night to look at her bedroom, leaving us entirely in the dark, thus projecting the blueprint plan into the sentient space outlying the movie. Overall, however, the gangly, hardly pulled together nature of the movie at least offers a preliminary explanation for what might be the origin or reason for the kind of movie that began to be made, even in the mainstream, at the time, and that is that by importing techniques from a subgenre, they were set on trying to tell a story, by leaving the great majority of the explanation off screen, throughout. Though, again, in review I felt that Stepford lost points in being so entirely oblique and nonexplanatory, which compromised to some degree the plausibility of the last step in the process.

One final point, in its use of realistic, exact, almost Central Park sidewalk artist drawing,

a 57the movie is part of its time in casting suspicion on too good of a likeness, in too accurate a way, of a person. Even in art, of the time, this was suspect, and, to some degree, it remains so, though figuration has continued to thrive. But, in a movie, this is backed up by the traditional horror that singletons feel for a likeness so good that is amounts to a double. In this movie, the drawing is in fact in the service of making a double of the person, so it is an instrument of twinfire, of eventually making of her a double whose horror in twinfire she will know. This is an interesting and fun literalization, it accords with traditional belief that likenesses be covered in the room where a wake is being held so that there is no soul jumping going on between body and art. This approbation against likeness is even reinforced by the fact that the artist turns out to be a Vargas type pin-up artist who “decimated my adolescence,” Ross says, that means, art like this

a 58

I will have to further explore this, maybe even read the novel, to see if this was intended, but, clearly, aesthetically, this is another slap at figurative likeness accuracy, as a dangerous thing, tending toward kitsch, and, in horror, because it suggests control as in voodoo doll control by a foreign power, which, of course, is entirely operative as a principal here.

“Striking Power” at the Pulitzer and “Strategic Vandalism,” Petzel Gallery: a few thoughts on the varieties of iconoclasm.

Rev., Mar 23, 2019,

A few comments about iconoclasm yesterday, the day when the Mueller investigation ended. First, ancient Egypt. I took a more complicated view of things, based on a solid definition of cult art going back with me now for more than a decade.

aaa 1

the model is

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the votary comes to the tomb or cave, and by coming, enters into the cult, which is highlighted and grounded in its prototype, of the cult statue. Behind the cult statue, in the votary’s understanding, is the god, and then behind the god is the place he or she comes from (this also applies to the dead in tombs). Now, the votary comes into the presence of the statue, and serves it with flowers, a washing, a meal, whatever, and this then brings the spirit of the god from the place it was, through the false door, into the tomb, into the statue, for it to open the eyes and engage with the votary for all the time of his or her presence.

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and that is how that is done. Enter, offer votives, awakes, it comes forward, through the false door, into the statue, there is an audience, then, when the votary leaves, the god leaves too, going back to the place he came from.

How does iconoclasm relate to this? one, the most common invasion of the tomb, to dismantle the cult, was theft. Thus the cult had to burrow ever deeper, to avoid that fate. Theft is an outside act that happens irregardless of the cult, and “comes in over the top” to exploit the situation, and then ruin it, negate it, it is a rationalized-exploitation form of address, no address at all, just attacking the outer shell forms.

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this is parallel to the wiggle room of psycho space that I recently worked out to explain the ritualization of murder in the case of Lizzie Borden, in the 1972 movie. Here, the wiggle room is in the cave, in the tomb, dealing with the same statues, but in taking it, it is negated, killed, and removed, ending the cult. Iconoclasm is pretty much the same thing,

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the iconoclast comes in against the cult figure, and damages it in some way as to reduce its power, deplete it, or kill it, entirely; religious iconoclasm is magically targeted to the known power of the cult figure, so it knows what it is doing, it is informed by theology and creed; but political iconoclasm is more indiscriminate, and likely to destroy at will anything to do with the cult site, and kill off, or efface entirely images of the political victim of the image purge. In both cases, I classify iconoclasm as acts of exploitational (rationalistic) violence, that is, without authentic agency, but invasive, demonic, directed by larger forces. Thus far, then, we have three acts against an image, a theft, which cares nothing for it, just wants it for its material worth; religious iconoclasm, a targeted disconnection of its spiritual power (this would involve targeted vandalism like truncus naribus nose whacking, to break the connection with the spirit, though to happen through the breath, says the curator of the show); and then political iconoclasm which is much broader, more indiscriminate, and will just whack everything it can, but with special attention, retargeted, at the personage that is a problem, to efface and erase him or her. Perhaps I need another square of negation, to differentiate directed effacement from random negation-destruction.

aaa 6

then in treating of this piece,

aaa 7

I argued that an iconoclast could change gears from political to religious, back to random, in one sweep through, as this panel seemed to me to include examples of three kinds of iconoclasm.

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these battles, as Belting has outlined, continue on up into the present day. I then addressed the issue with MJ,

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the problem I have being that in fact, whatever Wiley meant here, I made that picture a cult picture, and I was in the cult, and I am not yet prepared to act iconoclastically against it. But, I did mention the strange culture of stigmatizing that now revolves around images

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In the context of the protection of a cult of a group, an in-group, the wagons are circled to protect the inviolability of the club, the club is irrationally devoted to and grounded in the prototype of a cult image or person or belief system, any attack against it is a bad thing. Then, it has a whole phalanx of membership requirement, that is, intercessionary forms of address, such as litmus tests, and paying homage to icons of the heroes of the cult, the saints, the cult always requires inspiration to keep it alive, so it inducts new saints into the cult often, to keep the devotional game going. But, then, if 5 this new cult figure or even if related to the original cult figure 2, if he does something wrong, then he is attacked, and his image is embargoed, and at this point this activates apotropaic protective elements of the protective ring around the in-group, it in particular activates a whole series of responses that classify as under the apompic means of apotropaic expression, that is, banishing, and this can include such nice expelling, ostracizing, purging agentic devices as scapegoating, stigmatizing, which makes the very object of the icon contagious, like a disease, and a representation of corruption, making it not only physically dangerous to gaze upon the image but furthermore against the rules of the cult as now situated so that if you do gaze you become contaminated and must also be purged from the cult. In terms of actual offensive attack on the image, if it is engaged with the whole array of apompic banishing forms of apotropaic impulse, then all that goes to destroy or damage the cult image 8, or create a mock image, an effigy, or a lampoon, or the like, and it is thought by the cult 2 that by this means 8 the power of the icon or image will therefore be negated and killed, 9. While I can see, focusing only on the act, a reason for calling political or religious iconoclasm exploitational/rationalized and therefore nonagentic, that is, depleting, with in-group apotropaic action to protect itself by banishing an icon of a member found wanting, this IS agentic, and its marshalling of apompic strategies IS agentic, and its attack on the cult image, because done in this manner, IS agentic, so, this is an entirely different context, linked to in-group out-group politics.

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But then I concluded my FB day by mentioning a show at Petzel, which deals with a modern form of iconoclasm, which the curators call strategic vandalism, as an act done by an artist against an earlier work of art, for the purposes of detournement, to turn its meaning away, to make it new.

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The first problem is that my previous analysis argues that vandalism is only able to be broadly categorized because it so easily pours over into overdoing it, and become random. Thus, it is not only exploitational, and not agentic, but it is random, or depleted of agency in a second way. I acknowledge that when an image is targeted, to be hit or destroyed, in an act of vandalism, that is strategic, but it often has more to do with a larger issue related to politics than to the actual statue itself. An artist CAN claim that his or her act of vandalism is an act of their art, since artists of the modern period, in the cult of the artist, believe that

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but it is my strong suspicion that in fact, if you reject the cult of the artist, as I do, then it is revealed that the act of iconoclasm or vandalism is not a work of art created in performance by him or her, but an exploitational political act, linked to their politics as a person, not to their art, so that it comes in over the top in a ritualized psycho space, masquerading as art, to do a political strategic act of iconoclasm.

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but the problem here is, this kind of thing, by stepping outside of the purview of the artist and his or her art, into the political realm, is done for other-than-art reasons, and this means that, in the real world, for it to be classified as an act of vandalism, and not just an arty thing, a real object, in the real world, has to be really, damaged, or destroyed, in a way that really is destructive, and not just deconstructive, or a critique, but actually destroys it and its value or presence, and this real destruction, which is never to be confused with a work of art even of the performance conceptual sort (though it often has been).

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but, then, the problem with this show, as I see it now, is that the notion of “strategic vandalism,” which I argue only happens for other-than-art reasons outside of art, and involves real destruction and damage, that can involve the law, lawsuits, crime, jail, whatever, I mean it is real, this seems in this show to be being applied to internal in-art-purview acts of deconstruction of preexisting images that is not in any way linked to actual vandalism, or, really, even, to iconoclasm. The only piece in the show that I have seen, in pictures of it, so far, is this one

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and then maybe this one, which has the presence of a work of art, vandalized

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It appears to be an academic painting from the 19th century, of some value. So, Jorn is, in fact, vandalizing it, some value, some art, is being destroyed in the alteration, the fact that the act of vandalism is so minimal also leaves it almost at the margin of artistic control, in the real space of vandalism. This simple “mark making,” as I wrote about in terms of the art of Jonathan Meese, can be a possessive thing, like an apostrophe placed upon the art, but it also simply files it in as a simple act beside a few others that also signify something by it happening to a painting. Thus, when a painting is knocked on its side, as this one from Fred Wilson’s LA show at Maccarone, that is a symbol of chaos, of the world being tilted into chaos

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a slashing of a picture is another simple mark of this sort, as is a spill, etc. So, this is, for its simplicity, borderline, but, then, this one, also an academic painting of a Meissonier sort, the kind of which I saw at the Joslyn last week, it is nonsense, too directly a Jorn to be considered as simply an act of vandalism, it is being incorporated into Jorn’s counterculture by this act.

aaa 19landscape painting has less presence as academic painting in its own right, and has spread out farther and wider in the culture, then degenerated into routine things people hang on their walls, and then even as a trope in the context of motel room art, so in general I would value it less than a self-contained academic painting, its genericness reduces the charge, and making the shock of vandalism recede under interest in what or how Jorn altered it, which becomes the point of interest.

aaa 20Another one, here

aaa 21when the patient of the act, that is, the preexisting painting, becomes quite low brow, and cheap, the odds of anyone thinking of it as vandalism, because of its declining power or value vis a vis the value of the artist Jorn, gets even weaker.

aaa 22For an artist to take a thrift shop painting, and then incorporate it into their cult space, to then alter it, there is no vandalism or even iconoclasm here. It is simply an act of resetting, refreshing, reagency

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it simply provides a backdrop or a new context to reenliven one’s art and painting, such an act of reagent incorporation CAN be, especially in the postmodern period, deconstructive, therefore including an element of a critique, but all this is happening inside the art practice of the artist.

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then with a spirit of it serving as a threshold piece to imagining a world with a different kind of painting, it can counter from the cult of the artist to create in or of one’s art a counterculture, in which, for example, an appropriated or found painting might serve as the concierge, or entry picture, to lead to a new counterculture body work, all of it now part of the counterculture of the culture of the artist’s art.

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this is what I think is going on here

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or here

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this is not iconoclasm, or vandalism, but purposeful, artistic alteration of thrift shop painting to make of that device a kind of calling card to a counter world where that sort of painting would have meaning.

Another countering could go to the cult, wherein the appropriated picture just becomes part of the cult space of the artist in studio or life, and then it is somehow taken over, or occupied by the power of the cult of the artist, things are hung on it, it becomes an object in the décor or milieu of the cult, like the things hung on the pictures I saw in the fish shop in Omaha at Christmas, these are additions made by the artist either as artist or as artist living in the cult space of the cult of the artist, that is, as a person, for them to become keepsakes, talismans, good luck charms, whatever, all within the cult

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and this is what is happening here (imagining a world where a different aesthetic abides, and thus painting with holes in it, somehow, by some countercultural force, become the norm of this counterculture world)

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or this

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while it does appear that this piece is, in fact, someone else’s art, an independent work of art, nonetheless, the oddity of the cutting out the face (a sideshow effect) in my view at present still makes it part of the counter culture of the artist

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This appears to be enrico baj, simply taking other more popular works of art, and just bringing them into his counterculture world

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Then by a slightly different approach, not in one’s aesthetic counter world, but simply in one’s own human surroundings, in the cult of the artist, in residence or in a studio, something can happen that leads to an object being placed on a painting, or hung on it, and this becomes that, a studio bound cult of the artist occupation or control-taking, a territorial conquest of the art.

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and a close-up, just things hung on this painting, almost as if a refrigerator, or a bulletin board by a phone

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this is not even, in real life, what I call picture play, it only turns into that when the artist is involved

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Finally, I suppose there would also be countering through the votive vector, this would be altered works designed to amuse others, as gifts to them, and artists do that a lot too though I am not sure I saw any in this exhibition.

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After this then there is also reverse agency results, which would result in taking what was learned in other works in the countering, and now materializing them by ostension into a new large body of work of one’s own art,

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and I think this is what this is, which involves zero in the way of iconoclasm or vandalism in any form, but it merely the appropriation of ready made visual matter

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to then bounce off of moving quickly through the countering into a reverse engineered abstract art that is the art of Julian Schnabel.

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As to Schnabel, it is in the nature of this type of curated show that an idea is introduced to solidify description of the core works which were the focus of the research, that is, the prototype works of the exhibition, the REAL examples of what the curator is talking about. But then it always happens, the curator is then forced to find examples of the influence of this idea in other art, and then in the contemporary art on the market at present, and it is here that this sort of thing usually runs into trouble by including in the show works whose strategies bear a resemblance to detourement devices, or to vandalism, but which have no reality as that since the images made use of are reproductions or the like, making of them but collage works. In almost all of these pieces, there is no vandalism, the art is entirely in the realm of the artist’s art, it is not even a detournement, it is a work of art, only superficially related to the topic at hand, and included out of that curatorial pitfall of seeking to find evidence of influence or spread of ideas one comes to rely on resemblances and not realities in terms of agency.

All in all, then, I think it high time we retire the term detournement, as if all you have to do is alter an image, and that makes it new, I mean, we are in the age of the meme, the double down, we know that there are many, many ways, to twist meaning, one term is not enough. Here I propose a complete separation from art and artist any use of the word either iconoclasm, which is a political/religious/cultural act, or vandalism, which actually involves not merely a protest or a critique but actual destruction of property, and of the art; that artists in their purview and practice have expanded the field to allow of a complex of responses to a preexisting image, and if they make use of the actual physical found object, still, that simply lends a sculptural or picture play dimension of what is still their art, and this can involve apotropaic, intercessional, cult or votive addresses to the work, involving either simple reagency, that negated, or counteragency, then that run through the gauntlet of agentic addressings too, then reverse agency, and then the making from this practice of a new kind of art. Thus, I reject the notion that Jorn took part in “strategic vandalism” and only acknowledge that his alterations were, in fact, mere modifications in the context of his cult of the artist to serve either the counterculture of the cult, the cult space itself, or help him work toward incorporating the idea of alteration into a whole new body of work, still in the realm of his art.

The progression of agency in Neo Rauch’s Village of dreams, exhibition at Zwirner, Hong Kong, March-May 4, 2019.

Rev., Mar 31, 2019.

Note: This FUSION piece is a thought experiment applying a model of light dream structures to the paintings of Neo Rauch. It does not in any way reflect the artist’s thinking about his work. As I did not see this particular exhibition in person, it is not a “review” or “article” (though I did see in person every show Neo Rauch did up through 2013).

In FB posts this week I made some progress in working out the paintings of Neo Rauch, which I have been a big fan of for some time. On the one hand, I like them because they are paintings which exist entirely in the Umwelt or habitus of the mind created by the “lore” that he formed about things, he is, that is, painting in a personal mythological world, and giving it voice. All of which interests me. But this time I did a more rigorous dream structure analysis, because I have made progress in working out stages of dream experience in the visual arts in the past year. And what I found what that Neo Rauch now exists in his Umwelt in such a way that if he wants to “take a walk” in it, moving from one level or area of it to another, he can do that; if he wants to travel across the whole thing, in one sequence of paintings, the paintings intelligible only as visualizations of what is going on at each stage of his world, he can do that too. And, in fact, in a rationalization of the current set of paintings up in Hong Kong, I rearranged things from a singular one-picture focused formal analysis, to see them as if stations of the cross as one is lead down into and through another visit to his world. In general, I argue that most of his work exists in the light stage sleep called the entoptic, and is a classic manifestation of the Village of dreams

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the Village situates on the far side of the Black Bog, which is a form created out of  the receding blue dot as, on that dot, one descends into sleep. Make no mistake about it, when you are in the entoptic, you are asleep, but lightly. Then you come round to a lower state in the entoptic, in, generally, the Land of Nod, and that consists of entoptic elements beginning to take on form, and that is the Village of dreams. This, I think, is where Neo Rauch’s Umwelt lies, he says that he paints in a trance, a daydream, and that means that he does, in fact, descend from full consciousness into a vigilogogic state, then, for my response to his ideas, I place it in hypnagogy, the Village of dreams.

So, I have located for now where, in the brain, Neo Rauch’s little world is, the Land of Nod, with the Village of dreams.

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but, then, there is another point I make, for this body of work. It is entirely possible that a body of work, between shows, may be, if vigilogogic-hypnagogic, lighter or heavier than a previous foray. That is, it may tend more toward consciousness, or more toward dream. In fact, I think in this body of work there is more intrusion by waking thoughts. In this work, the montage effect of the scenes, in one panel, though possibly lifted from a form of advertising or whatnot, has fissures of scene that feel like the breaks of the waking, not the sleeping mind.

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this, then, made me think that the scenes, this time, were being more often intruded upon by consciousness. As a result, this creates a strobe effect as, in the Land of Nod, the mind nods off to sleep then nods back up to waking, then back and forth, for hours on end, until one does not even know if one is awake or asleep (see my treatment of this in Whistle and Ill Come to You). This is what is going on here. But, the thing is, this is a particular formation, I mentioned in a post as well that Neo Rauch’s paintings should do fine in Hong Kong because a lot of movies of the Hong Kong New Wave era had a strobe effect in which the eye was juddered from waking to sleeping, in a succession of visual nods.

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this is best manifest in a movie I took a look at the night before, again, Ann Lui’s The Spooky Bunch (1981), which is so shot through by repeated sighting, then disappearing, of ghosts, and in cramped quarters of a backstage, with lots of veils and curtains, that one often did not know who was a ghost, who was real. I posted 30 images from the movie, but this suffices

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but what that means is that a strobe effect, like lightning, was breaking up this space, in the Land of Nod. I have mapped this out before. It crosses repeatedly, again, like lightning strikes, from the vigilogogic (waking)-entoptic, mirroring the hypnagogic-entopic across the gap of the in-between space I call the Luor (everyone has a different name for it), to the hypnagogic-entoptic

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the dream space is as a result rather broken up, as seen above, and it may be that the sometimes odd break ups of Neo Rauch’s spatiality in his work is due to the fact that he is nodding in and nodding out in a strobe effect in which he visualizes his Village under constant assault by lightning, which does, in fact, show up a lot (upper left corner here)

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So, having placed where I think this Village is, the Village of dreams, in the Land of Nod, light sleep stage one, the hypnagogic-entopic stage, with interference from the vigilogogic-entopic stage, I then had to work out what was happening in each painting, where they were located in a temporal framework whereby I imagined us visiting the town once again, through a series of pictures more or less laid out in a serial way.

So, first I had to deal with the fact that a few of the pictures have gone to monochrome. This I related to the vigilogogic-entoptic, that is, one is awake, but with eyes closed, looking at the forms and fissures inside one’s closed eyes (ie visualizing). In fact, if you look inside your eyelid, in the entoptic visual field, in sunlight or light, it is red (for Caucasians), and as this painting is red, I conjectured that for this body of work, NR was starting us off with a foreshadow, an imagining of what might be going on in that Village, before we set off to it, and it is all red because all of these scenes are visualized in the light-infused entoptic visual field.

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Two other things. This one is also more crowded in terms of the frame of the visual field, there is no background, and, then, it is also more penetrated not by dreamy thoughts, but  by waking thoughts, that is, one is thinking of things while awake, usually about people, what they have to say about this or that, etc etc, and these seem in fact to pile into this plane as they might if seen after thinking about them in the light-infused red entoptic visual field. Second, there are also flicks of green, I think they must be the very first drop-ins of the sand of sleepiness, the very first edging into falling asleep, just about the edges. So, this foreshadows in the waking mind that he expects to see or visit a town which is still struggling with some sort of fishing issue, and it might be that this waking picture is inflected with NR self-talk as to the extent to which sometimes his cloistered occult world might seem to be bothersome to normal viewers out there in the world. That, then, is what is going on here, it is an introduction.

But, then, there is, as I rationalize it out (and I use the word rationalization here as in mythological studies, when a rational explanation is provided to explain a myth, a tendency of thought especially among the Cambridge anthropologists from Frazier to Murray which I quite like; “rationalization” in life and art, by contrast, I abhore), I place this picture next to and down from, in terms of vigilogogy-hypnagogy, the previous, as the visual field has switched to blue, which means, eyes are getting sleepier, or we have passed into outer darkness, so the inside of the eyes is dark too. Also, again, I do not hold any artist to the particulars of my system and how I have worked out where stages of light sleep are situated vis a vis each other, each artist works out the mental topography, formally or not, for themselves, and it is my guess that Neo Rauch has fused the Black Bog of the Land of Nod and the in-between zone above it, which I call the Luor, to imagine that cross over space as a sea, a dark, unnamed sea, maybe the Baltic, but an inscrutable place of mystery. This then shows two men on the shore of the entoptic, they have crossed over, but they have crossed over the sea of the in-between. They have a sort of object with them that might have to do with fishing or maritime defense (and my reading of Apollodorius’s Argonautika again this week suggests that they might be making a sacrificial offering of some sort to whatever power they ascribe their survival too, as Jason and the Argonauts were spending pretty much most of their ashore time in those tasks, which is surprising).

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Imagining the in-between in NR’s mind as consisting of a dark sea, this allows one to look through the paintings as well and sort them into those that appear to happen close to the sea, and those which are entirely inland. This worked out as follows. Below is a painting that takes place right at the edge of the sea, in fact, by a cliff face which faces down the dark sea over which strange meteorological events ascribable to the strobe effect forever lightning-flashing over that in-between space happen, and there is a house at the end of the cliff, a lookout. The man on the right is the custodian, the psychopomp of the entoptic, his juggling is a variant of a well-known horror movie trope, the Bounced In Ball, by which by the bouncing of a red ball into a scene, it is announced, in the simplest way possible, that we are now in the presence of something supernatural (in this case, that we have now passed over into the dreamlike). And then he is performing for, and welcoming in, a figure in tux and tophat who might be the master of ceremonies, or concierge of the entry into dream, except that, as we are not quite fully immersed in the dream, still in a limbic state, he is still partly blue, the mind has not entirely fallen asleep on him, moreover he is not an independent being, he is, in fact, a flower, or an appendage of a root of a tree of a strange sort, by the sea shore. This too is a transitional element.

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This is one of those odd set pieces that Neo Rauch is famous for. The large shoot of the plant, almost the size of a tree, has a side table of some sort, or a bench, hooked over one branch. This suggests that either it grew through a house and took some furnishings with it, or the figure is trying to get higher in it by piling up furniture.

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Even stranger, it is not clear if he is growing out of the plant, as I first saw, or independent of it, with a fish tail, meaning that, just as he is blue, so he is a figure which has crossed over the Luor or the sea, and is still amphibious. I noticed that there was a good deal of amphibious creaturely business in this series, and in general I argue that all of those figures represent symbolically the transition from waking to dream, they are, in fact, figural forms of the lightning strikes of the Strobe Effect. If the figure is hooked up on the growth, this makes me think he is an appendage or golem of a greater power. There is figure precisely like this in the movie Await Further Instructions (2018) now on Netflix. The father is killed, but when the invading vine comes in the house it feeds itself up through the father’s corpse to resurrect him as a walking dead, but really only a puppet, literally, of the vine. This could be going on here. Another point. The scariest device in Lovecraft’s Color Out of Space is that the trees move as if there is wind, even if there is no wind. If, in fact, the plants were also amphibian, that is, transitional, but, in the picture space, also reptilian, that means that they would move that way independently as well, making him spookier in his ta-da of welcoming. In any case, travelling the pictures, I see this picture as situated right as one crosses over into the hypnagogic-entoptic, at the edges, still processing some hangover waking effects.

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Then there is another seaside scene in the series, a man is at the marsh by the sea, the dark sea, depicted as that, as in the previous picture, with a red sky beyond, and a nude nymph is trying to entice him, like a Siren, to come in, to join life in the in-between space, again symbolically rendered as amphibian by the tentacles embracing her; but while this is tempting, his earthly wife, or rather, at this juncture, his dream wife, is pulling back at him, trying to make him let go. Sequenced with the previous, this one is a reiteration, that is, Neo Rauch ended up just doing another version of the same idea as in the previous, but in a more conventional language, well understood in world culture, in the West as derived from the tradition of sea nymphs and sirens in Greek and Roman mythology (and again, some very good details to add to this from the Argonautika, though I am not sure I want to associate this in-between black sea with the wide open sea of Amphritite and Thetis).

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thus, we are four pictures into the series, as I lay it out, and have only got just past the shore of the entoptic, arriving now in the Land of Nod, in the world of dream, entering, as we go, into the village of dreams. For whatever reason, but all of it nonetheless agentic because involved in an Umwelt saturated with agency, entirely “cleared out” of rationalization and the like, NR has dwelt on the getting into it, the descent into dream, the approach to the Village.  Something, somehow, this time, snagged his imagination in the black sea, and he decided to reiterate four paintings previous to arriving in the series. This is an example of propention, choosing which temporal orientation to take on a scene, before, during, or after, and this up to now is before.

But at this point, we finally come into the Village of dreams. And again, oddly, NR pauses to look about again, to set the stage, to lead us in. In this seemingly straightforward landscape painting, of a very gentle sort, and entirely out of keeping with his usual, we are in the hypnagogic-entoptic, coming into the village, but it is simply marked, in the same way that the Bounced in Ball works, to introduce us to something odd about it.

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though there is something mysterious going on, as in an invasion movie, there is a mark, either a V or some sort of flowery something, in the left corner

aaar 15recently, I watched a German version of The Color out of Space (2010), and in it it also introduced the arrival of something strange, forgetting about the meteor for now, by the sudden entry of a strange color.

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That’s what this is, again, the equivalent of the Bounced in Ball. And I argue this because there is yet another edge of town scene, coming in from the dark clouds and the red sky of the black sea beyond, to a marker of a building, perhaps owned by an artist, and, once again, as if sporting, he is engaging in an action that can also be ascribed to the Bounced in Ball.

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though it looks like he is stacking frosted donuts, or juggling innertubes, or something.

aaar 18So, up to now, we have come in, and come in slowly. This need not be alarming. If an artist has created an Umwelt, or milieu of his or her own making, he or she can thereafter itch whatever part of it he or she might want to, if he or she happens to be of a mind to focus on the approach, so be it, that seems to be what happens here, in the propentive framework of this body, several works, and we are just getting into town

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But, now, we actually come into the town. And while I argue, in general, that the Village of dreams is on the far side of the Black Bog in the Land of Nod, it does, in fact, spread out behind it and I am only just figuring out how that goes, though it can then spread down through secret doors and tented back alley spaces into the Glass Onion phase. Here, we will find Glass Onion symbolic binary light sleep effects such as the Twinfire, the PingPong Table, the Parking Lot, and the like, as well as leading out to the ambient by way of Toad Road formations, that is, simple mental shuttles of back-and-forthness that characterize the nature of light dreaming in the Village of dreams as it deepens its occupation over into level two, the symbolic, what I call the Glass Onion.

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and, in fact, we are not quite there yet, as there is one last view, but way in the background, of the black sea between, and we see that the objects that the men in the Wachter were using are carrying by the men going to the far beach, and then being stacked up by others, presumably coming in, after a long day, into the town.

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There is one final transition figure, these women pouring out some milk

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Again, I do not hold individual artists to the exact mapping out of my system, they usually come up with their own version, maybe in a compressed, condensed, or even, sometimes, misplaced form. As I envision it, entering into the entopic, from the in-between, that is, translating thought-and-seen vigilogogic-entoptic visual elements into hypnagogic-entopic visual elements, there is a flip, of color, from monochrome to color, then, there is a dispersal of the veil of blue dots which background is the basis of vigilogogic-entopty, from blue dots into figures, such as this

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I have found that for whatever reason there is a blue dot formation that figures out as two hanging feet intruding into the scene from above, and this is something that you have to brush out of the way to move on into dream. This is the Hanged Woman. I think in NR’s universe, this figure, in Tara, is his version of that entry figure, but in his case it is two or one women making a libation offering for the good luck of one’s entry into this world. As I describe it

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I try to use technical terms from Faraone’s agentic arrays to nail things down, so apotropylonic means she stands in front of the gate, making a libation before entering.

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With Kafer I think we now actually come into town, and we again find that we are in an intercessional, initiation, entry phase. What I see in this picture is an induction. Some of those who have come in, or come over the black sea, are still too transitional.

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here again I let NR place the woods in areas approaching the town, they are a vestige of the entoptic, heading into more symbolic structures. Note here that the figure on the right is still tethered, like the man in the greeting, is, to something greater than himself. Then there is some other settling in going on between the chief custodian of the halfway house, and people transitioning in.

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and then there is one last transitional picture, more indoctrination. Pictorially, there is another woman who is transitional, amphibious below the waist, there is another man apparently seeking to speak on a soapbox, but it is all tentacles too, so he is still in transition. There is also a full size reptile being lead by a leash in. A word about visuality. When you enter into the hypnagogic-entoptic, for a time, one’s visuality is highly peripherial-concerned, you do not know what is real or what is not. At the very periphery of your side-eye you might spy a presence, coming in on you. If it keeps coming, that might be a Nemesis, targeting you, but if it is just out there, haunting, it is what I call a Conjure Figure, which takes a certain shape, small, distanced, but also with a certain unreal materiality, a not quite being what they are sort or being. That is what this symbol of transition is, the town in this district is still dealing with induction and even indoctrination.

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so, total, we have eight paintings that just get us into it

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The main event of the exhibition, not that it will be arranged in this schematic way, or that these paintings are to be singled out, is represented by only three paintings (there is another that I cannot figure out how it fits). Certainly, this represents a preoccupation of mind, perhaps NR was musing on wagon circling, on how we act at the borders, at how it is for a stranger getting into a new town, how foreigners are greeted in town, what in induction takes place. This is, of course, all a concern of the time, especially in Europe. Some might think that one would have to alter one’s subject matter entirely to address these issues, but if one is working in a Village of dreams, all one need to do is shift the topography of where certain scenes are situated, and by that shift of geographical emphasis, a point can be made, concerns can be addressed, but remaining cleared so that the issues of intercession, entrance, encountering apotropaiea, induction, indoctrination, all acts that have agency, as opposed to rationalized commentary, all can be addressed here.

Finally, then, even though in my reading a full eight canvases are, this time, prepositional, in the sense that they travel to, cross over, arrive at and are about induction into the village of dreams of Neo Rauch’s universe, there still has to be, to ground or focus it all, a few centering pieces. This is what I wrote on my FB page

“Last one on Neo Rauch in Hong Kong, and it’s no issue NR taking his time getting into the core events, it happens. In Doubt, we pass over entirely into the symbolic stage I call the Glass Onion, so the Village, but at the back, leading out. The main figure here, where the woman is getting some paperwork, announces the new energy level, in movies he’s the Scary Doll or Cymbal Monkey, here he’s the Pontifex, head of rite, assisted by guys with the electric whatever in back, the figure on the right actually conforms to a common trope, he’s the Devil’s Butler, he means, expect something interesting, all these tropaic figures, at the border between entoptic and symbolic, with more potential, meaning they can now take action. That tent or whatever it is is perfect, the symbolic blocks out any looking back”.

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Both the Cymbal Monkey and the devil’s butler are welcoming figures, but I place them, in my grand map of dream guides, pretty specifically as standing at the end of the Glass Onion and leading into the Lattice, or “heavy” crisis stage. The Cymbal Monkey is a fairly rare trope but in a 1984 movie I watched about a house possessed it played the role of the possessed object which brought the evil into the house, but its look and its noisemaking, also announced a presence. This is, in fact, but a heavier enactment of the Bounced in Ball but in this case it most often happens care of a bell ringing (I did not understand why a bell was being rung in in-between splice shots in the Ana da Armas Spanish movie Anabel (2016), but soon after I saw that it was a hide n seek thing, and then the ghostbuster in Angelica (2018) made of the ringing bell to find where the demon was, whenever it stops ringing that is where the haunting has lodged itself). So, the man with the compass and map, signing people in, he is that person here. As for the devil’s butler, this is a case where Neo Rauch adheres very closely to the trope as his materialized forgeman tending to the furnace is very much a version of the iconic statue of a sly devil holding out a tray to guests. In this capacity, these are also, both, tropaic figures, as this is where, I think, tropaic statues manifest, as it would seem the plot needs the extra oomph of tropaic power to move on to the next phase. I concede that I placed this particular scene as the transitional scene, primarily on the basis of the tropes hidden in it, and where they are placed on my overall chart of dream guides.

With Propaganda, we have a centerpiece work, moreso that the exhibit as a whole is titled that, it drops down to the level of the lattice itself, stage three, where one concern takes over, things get heavy.  It’s a combination sacrifice, which could be massive (the Greeks routinely sacrificed 100 bulls, a hecatomb, if they burnt it all, ie the whole thing, it was a “holo”caust, the technical word). We are repressing any lack of allegiance which the amphibians of the transition are now seen as, but, at the same time, a haruspex, ie soothsayer, seems to be auguring, not from reading entrails but by reading teeth or mouth features. It is propaganda because on the basis of the findings, if good or bad, the town lives (Julius Caesar famously ignored an evil flamingo entrail portent on the morning of his death).

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here too, again, this scene in this case is placed where it is based, not on the personages, but on the genre elements, what is going on in the picture. You might not know what is going on, without reference to ancient ritual. But it looks to me like this is a public event, supported by propaganda, to purge from the town of any residual lingering transitionalness represented by the collection of whatever amphibian forms they could find, then round them all up and sacrifice them to ask help from the gods of whatever for help in the survival of the village of dreams. The fact that there are so many of them, and that this takes place on the Lattice, is, in my view, the lattice shot of the sequence in whole. It means that the town might have become overly preoccupied with outsiders arriving and compromising the nature of the town, thus the sacrifice of symbols of this transitional state that will not go away would be a classic wagon circling event to solidify what Burkert calls the Mannerband solidarity of the town. The lady in the ballet skirt with the megaphone might, indeed, be what Neo Rauch thought up in critiquing the exploitational pom pom ie cheerleader nature of most discussion of immigrations of late, making immigrants pawns in a political battle (but the fact that this issue seems especially intense in the French Alps, with immigrants crossing over from Turin, makes it more likely that in the subtext of the dreamy series there is serious concern over the issue). Also, then, it is also a composite event. Because not only are they “sacrificing” the amphibians, one man is looking down its throat, I read this cryptic, surreal act as an act of haruspicy, he is auguring, just like augurs did of the flight of birds or the entrails of flamingoes. This is the same thing. So, auguring, an intercessional act, doubles up on sacrifice, a votive solidarity-enhancing act; both then compounded for a cult purpose, to shore up the community against the outside, this is what is going on here. The panel is correctly called Propaganda because, of course, it is only a propaganda voice that through exploitation of agency can support the blindness that enables the creation of a delusional mania which leads to this sort of resurgence of antique behavior.

Next up, die Herrin, the big men on campus, making obeisance to a cult figure talismanic-plus-hecatean statue-something, the very palladian of the town. A man makes weird hand signals like he is in Fellini’s Satyricon, a woman presides in the nude because her skin–freedom from clothing lets the spirit flow through–makes of her the aegis, sort of like a spiritual notary public; the statue is offered to, the spirit is in it, the structures up right might be factory and castle avec lightning that the rich folk in town own.

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I might have missed this one, because on the left side, I see, again, more of the black sea, the body which in my view in this series represents the transition space between waking and sleeping, trancing and dreaming. If read from that perspective, then this scene would file in just after the Wachter where the man in the plant is met with. They come ashore, and, just as Jason does so often in the Argonautika, they thank the gods for their deliverance by building a small shrine, then sacrificing a thanks on it. As a device, the constant resort to sacrifice is yet another surrender of the Greek mind from the travails of exploitation and manipulation, and rationalization and contention, to a mind-clearing event which puts off everything on the gods. Just as an oracle’s saying would help them break the deadlock of a disagreement between two overly politicized factions in a fight, its answer to offer an override answer that both had to accept, so sacrifice before or after doing anything again sets off blame or thanks on to the gods, to let the men tolerate their disagreements with others in terms of strategy, etc. Whether this scene is a coming-ashore thanksgiving scene, or, as above, the central consultation with the oracle that is at the center of the town, only spoken to only on special days, will depend on how ultimately I would interpret what the statue is. It is an odd one.

aaar 37It looks like a doll, locked into a kind of straight jacket, but with spikes on it, reminiscent then of the Virgin of Nuremberg (in my lore, I believe there was a cult of the Virgin of Nuremberg, she is also mentioned early in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five). She, however, seems to be only half a person, propped up sans legs on a velvet covered structure of some sort, its body then constructed of strange colored slats, of unknown substance. The base is also odd, I have nothing for it. But this could be so, as when oracle statues are made, they are anathemata in their making, that is, manufactured with human hands, to enhance power; but then also algamata, pleasing to the gods, to ease communication. Everyone around her does seem to be acting in a cult way, as noted. The offering of a plate, though empty, is a votive gesture; the man holding her up, and with a jacket that might belong to a circus, is supporting her; then another man is making hand gestures, to enhance her intercessional power; and then a nude woman stands over it all, her nudity as noted serving compound agentic purposes to let the spirit flow freely in. For my reading, above, I see this as the central canvas of the exhibition. Propaganda addresses the crisis of solidarity in the community, eagerly searching for answers; but die Herrin shows that the power structure itself might be in trouble, in terms of thinking that the gods still listen. Thus, for the last three panels, we move down in.

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But, there is another possibility, leading to deeper truth. In the movie, The Nun (Spanish) (2012), I noted that the key turning point in terms of leading to the solution of the mystery was finding a haunted corridor along which were hung large baroque portraits of the saints, each one having a namesake amongst the killing victims. And each picture showed each girl corresponding by name to it how she was going to die. The sequence of the paintings, in a corridor format, meant something, as it adds to the dynamic. I place that particular corridor here

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it is as if the movie had architecturalized the whoosh, or the spiral down to the splat to nightmare, by this sequence of portraits. Coming in that number, with so much horror, one after the other, they acted as the visual whoosh that took everything down to the crisis moment, will it be dream or nightmare? And at the bottom of that sort of pictorial version of the whoosh, there is always the “truth shot.” I worked out this sequence in Hereditary (2018), it was represented folded into the research section, as the mother paged through her mother’s cult photo album. Every photo had a landscape picture in it, the landscape paintings from picture to picture carried her down, until she got down to the truth shot that showed her the evil deal her mother made. (For the same reason, I  would, theoretically, protest the covering over a Columbian era series of murals at Notre dame University because I think that they represent the haunted corridor there, and may speak in ways that will be productive of change, by staying put, in futures to come). In any case, by this arrangement, Propaganda commences the whoosh to nightmare, and Herrin represents the painting in which either the splat out of nightmare, or glide into dream occurs (my sense here is, the latter)

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I say that because in my FB post, I saw the last picture in the show, in my sequencing, Luz, as in fact an actual arrived, slip into deep REM dream, and so the last scene is truly REM dream like.

Finally, in Luz, like in Suspiria (2018), perhaps, the magic to get god to do what they need him to do, even after preliminary sacrifice, is cast through showbiz form. Again, top witch, again nude to better conduct energy, conjures up some ectoplasm, this, accompanied by the girl on the green guitar no doubt playing the Beatles “Heavy”, manifests as Morpheus, god of prophecy, who has the equipment to zoom down the whoosh spiral into deep REM dreams then find you and deliver you a fateful message. The Greeks used to go incubate (or sleep over) at a temple to have a dream in which the god visited them and told them their destiny; for the Romans, it was Morpheus, a message from him coming down all the way from heaven into your REM dream, that was your creed and truth (All horror movies with dream machinery keep delving til they get to the truth shot, then, we’re done). Is this how NR sees it? well, certainly not on the plane of artspeak doubletalk, but my bet is he knows these figures, where they reside, has names for them, like any deep dreamer.

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Finally, then, to summarize. There is rich agency in Neo Rauch’s Village of dreams, that is, all persons depicted are either dream guides, whose very being is based in an agentic task, or officials undertaking agentic versions of what perhaps might also be readable as magic-bureaucratic acts (with, in a few paintings, a hint at exploitation). But it is also true that in the earlier part of this series, under the cloud of transition, things were not quite certain with regard to agency; and it is only when the series passes out of the lower reaches of the village of dreams into the new city past it, perhaps growing to the south of it, establishing a lattice, a whoosh and an REM dream entry image, that full agency in action is enacted, with the paintings being more traditionally (I mean Neo Rauch’s tradition) grounded, more overtly symbolic-ritualistic, more clearly agentic-poetic, and, then, more tending toward the surreal, that is, deep REM dream state. That is, while the first eight paintings of this sequence are “light,” the last four are “heavy,” and it is that heaviness that at last emits the pull of agency, to make the art as before with Neo Rauch come alive in communicating to human beings of all walks of life by directly appealing to the push-pull of agency and its demands on their life lived.

I did mention, to end things in my post, while I assembled the pictures in the evening, they did not shake out to reveal a possible sequencing, until the next morning. I slept on it, and it became clear. “Interpretation and ordering entirely mine, delivered as a fantasmata after taking it all in, last night, then sleeping on it, all revealed when I woke up”.

In any case, does any of this correspond to how Neo Rauch lays it out? Not likely, but, also, not entirely irrelevant. The paintings, in fact, do generally correspond to a model of vigilogogy or hypnagogy, and to a travelling through states of both, to some final climax. This mis en scene between the pictures is, I think, present, whether or not it happens in the same way or sequence as I have mapped out. In this way, I have tentatively linked Neo Rauch to a dream structure model, and identified a number of the figures in his paintings as dream guides, based on my discovery of 91 of them in the past three years work; and I have also linked up the actions in his paintings to agentic behavior with roots in common world culture, having elements of cult, intercession, votive and apotropaion, so that in his Village of dreams, when it comes down to life and art, it is simply a matter of who do you love? what do you want? what have you to offer? and what are you afraid of?