rev., Feb 14, 2020.
Note: with mention of dana Schutz, Alejandra Venegas, Ryan Mosley; doctor Sleep (2019), The Exorcist (1973), etc. This is a Fusion POV thought piece, not a review based on having seen in person the works mentioned. Fusion cross-talking intertextually between art and, in my case, movies, is the premise.
I made a note on my FB page about Radical Figures at Whitechapel. In general I reject the seesaw rationale for the show, and the figure versus abstraction back and forth, and I thought the show clumsily curated, but I did discover Christina Quarles. And this gives me an opportunity to further parse why I am beginning to favor one kind of figurative work over another, in the current boom of art of this kind. Here are my posts
in other words, the art world today, or online, seems content to float along on meaningless buzzwords, without any discrimination of criticism in terms of the forms and figures rendered in works of art. Since I spend most of my time with movies these days, and have found many tropes and devices which granulate form or figure, I would now, in a spirit of “fusion,” have to carry this back over to art, and argue that the buzzword approach is no longer valid.
So, according to my system, I like dana Schutz because she partakes of the vigilogogic, the mind slightly compromised in its consciousness by stress or fatigue, when unseen or unimaginable things start into the mind, which you immediately repress, and, most of the time, that is vigilogogic-level panic generating momentary fantasies of horror and doom. I see things like this all the time, with many horrible imaginings based on the current status of my marginalized life. Generally, her gothic imagination chose not to immediately repress and erase those visions, but hung onto them, to give image to them, to represent them–that is where she spends most of her time, at various levels of intensity. I once theorized that her imagination developed in this way because, though from Michigan, she spent some studio time along the Gowanus canal in Brooklyn, where I once lived, the valley filled with fantasies of ruin, thus, she had, I wrote in 2012, a “gowanic imagination”. She has a unique genius for this.
so, her wheelhouse is somewhere here (without going into it in detail) (upper box is vigilogogic; lower box is hypnagogic, arrows meet in the space between waking and sleeping)
it is vigilogogic, but takes a gothic exaggerated form because seen from the waking mind, maybe in instant retrospect, at an angle (consciousness of everyday marked as C, in a box above). That is, in an art gallery we gaze askant at a haunted state of mind.
I also recently reacted to a Mexican artist, Alejandra Venegas, who also works in, I think, the vigilogogic, but in a plein air way
and I would map this out thus (C=consciousness; v=vigilogogy; h=hypnagogy).
I also felt that Ryan Mosley, in the Radical Figures, is working in vigilogogy, though here intersecting with a preoccupation with Legion-like demons I have found all the past year.
Then, too, Gladys Nillson is getting a revival, in my view, because her work is entirely vigilogogic, made in the entoptic imagery of the closed eyes, even almost as “pronks”, that is, figures one visualizes with eyes closed, but then which, as they immediately burnt away, get weird, and she chose to wait for a bit of the burn for them to get weird, and then render them, more FB
several images under this rubric
Finally, though, I find many more hypnagogic devices in movies, than vigilogogic. This means that I will favor artists of a figural sort who venture to map out the complexities of the hypnagogic, after, in fact, sleep overtakes, and you cross the in-between, and are, in fact, in the light sleep stages leading to REM dream, these seem to be more in evidence in art of late too. One point, though. I have found that while movies are clearly to be seen when one is awake (!), Belting has remarked that movies affect us as if dreams. It can be said that the effect of a movie is to cast you into a certain pacified state of vigilogogy, but, then, the visual devices most often made use of in movies are mostly hypnagogic, meaning that the movies have tricked us by shifting hypnagogy up over vigilogogy, to make things even more appealing to our need to belong to it (a shift I call, now, the Big Creep). In using hypnagogic devices, art means to expand consciousness beyond the rational, to capture the full feeling of the life force. This is where Christina Quarles is, my first response.
these, I think, in Radical Figures
but, now, my more detailed proof of this, that these are as if dream-guiding me through the mind, is that there is space, and layers in them.
Consider this one, Always Brightest Before th dusk….baby, I want You To Know all Tha….(2019). The first thing I am interested in is that the scene is not realistic, but it takes place in a hypnagogic space. What this means is that these are creatures in a depleted zone, perhaps even in the prototype space where they are kept as “entomes”(creatures torn to pieces) as in the basement in the tanz schule in Suspiria (2018), this would relate them to devolutionary figurative trend in Euro art (see previous post).
so this is like Patricia in the basement as found by Sara in Suspiria (2018)
and, then, in this space, a figure is pushed and caught in the wall. This relates to the delirious phantasms of Jose Molica Marins, 1970s Brazilian horror director, who featured this dis-integration of the body in this way, body parts stuck in a wall, especially in Hallucinations of a deranged Mind (1974) (also see previous post)
but then the uncanny coincidental thing about this is that I also recently screened doctor Sleep (2019) and in it dan locks the ghost of Mrs. Massey, she of disgusting body in the bathroom of room 237 of the Overlook (who shows up a lot in the sequel)
in a “lock box” in his brain, which is set, no less, in the Overlook labyrinth, representing his brain, in this version; and here, during the viewing time, a painting made contemporaneous to that idea in which a figure is being locked away in the actual hedge itself, to be paralyzed there, here in doctor Sleep (2019)
and in Quarles
this strongly suggests to me that we are in a lock box situation, and as I have worked it out previously this can only be in brain sites ambient to hypnagogy, a White Out or a Black Out, when, having experienced a measure of nightmare, one ends up bouncing out into those limbos in lateral ambient state, to suffer spins or shrill hauntings.
since Quarles’ art is so body conscious I am going to say that after some unspecified “nightmare” or splat prior to the painting, she ends up bouncing into a White Out, with a hedge around it, at the level of the lattice, the hedge being the lattice form (This hedge being a lot like the house in Vanishing Waves (2018, Estonia), a decedent of entoptic spin imagery, but at the level of lattice (third level)
it is odd, though, this doctor Sleep (2019) coincidence, because I have been looking into the various forms of the “shining” that King devised in the original book, then how they translated them into the movie, and certainly the most accurate one in the movie, and most intriguing, is the case of Abra “Far-seeing” (even called this in the book by King). In Far-Seeing, Abra’s eyes go white, then she sees the caravan, aerially, far away. In my view, her Far Seeing per se is simply wakeful dreaming, her conscious waking mind able to block out vigilogogy to drop into hypnagogy, the blink out occurring at the crossover nexus, over the in-between space, which I call the Luor
and then she sees the caravan, which itself is a classic glass onion (second level) graphic formation.
but, then, there is a weird spin. Two theories for this. In the book, King says that Abra has control over her visions of Far-seeing almost as if it was a vinyl record or a tape, she can rewind or fast forward at will, and maybe even like a dj cause the record of it to skip or get weird, this is apparent in its quick, twisting movement
the second possibility is that this is compressed to accommodate it taking place in her head. And while the usual method of showing the lattice view from the inside of the head of a person in a movie is the view of the back of the head, which says everything you see here is inside the head, this does show up when she goes further into what King calls Far-Being, but, here too, the scene wriggles by montage across her face
everything is in her head, so it is a vigilogogic level twist up to “fit” a hypnagogic seeing into her round head, in a graphic way
This would really have to posit that this happens because her Far Seeing is at the level of the lattice, so if seen from outside in, it reflects the contours of her body. So, that is the second possibility.
But, then, there is a third possibility. Notice that Quarles’ figures in this body of work are not only entomic, but spindly. I have dealt with the spindly before, but my most recent notion is that when, sometimes, you have a particular type of light fugue dream, the dream can be of such a nature that when you at last begin to come out of it the rest of it takes on the character opposite the body of it, as if by an enantiodrominon on a staircase (as in Joker (2019)), and my example is the Night Line dream formation, which happens on the lateral whoosh stage, where you dream that you are stuck in a low narrow tunnel and wriggling through, back to the center, and, then, once you surface, you do so in an accelerated and spindly form as if bursting out of it with a compensatory speed-up. So, this outline
his then suggests that Abra, for example, even to have a vision of Far Seeing in that particular form, for it to then spindle on her, had to have been predisposed by a nightmare experience, which would be the whole drama of the book, and the fears (she saw, by way of shining, the boy being killed)
so something like this.
The most famous spindly event in movies is, of course, in The Exorcist (1973), when, after Chris just about implodes emotionally from hearing that Burke denning has been thrown down the stairs adjacent to the house, she is tormented, but then to spike it, Friedkin unleashes the famous split-second spiderwalk on the stairs in the house, opposite the stairs outside.
the above painting is further complicated by the presence of a Blind Spot, as theorized by me to be the result of having had a traumatic nightmare, of which you remember nothing, but you are left with the irritating, ambient panic of worry spreading through all things, so there is a blank orb, then a lot of wrigging around it, I think is in the work of Wangechi Mutu at the Met
In Quarles the blind spot might be that circle on the woman’s backside
in this albeit inaccurate and lazy graph of it, just to make the point that there is, at the center of such a picture, a Blind Spot, then the rest of the figuration takes the depleted radiating form of worry wriggling out, as if nervous energy burnt off, flowing away from the center, which in some ways this body does, as if it is of centered on an upsetness that all anybody sees of this body is the booty and everything else just becomes vectors of worried self-appraisal spun out from this (see my full treatment of the blind spot in previous post on Blow Job (1980))
At present, then, I argue that what makes this painting have a fundamentally different figurative character even from dana Schutz, is that while Schutz’s work gives visual form to the panic gothic thoughts that race through the conscious or vigilogogic ie groggy or haunted mind, Quarles has somehow mined the next level down, the hypnagogic, for her imagery to partake of the dynamics and dimensions of the agency of dreams at that level. In this painting she seems to be saying that her body is a trap and sometimes she wants to crawl away from the Blind Spot by which people judge it, at others times to just lock it away in a box in her mind and not think so much about it, even if her art is all about bodies.
Then she also has a work called double down (2019). This one is a bit more fully figurative, and has a bit of narrative too as it seems to be a lamentation on a relationship that has begun to split apart in some way.
The thing that astonishes me here is that the picture has three layers, each corresponding to a depth level in hypnagogy. The top figure is the primary figure of the picture, the picture is grounded in her, she is at the lattice level, and, in many ways, it can also be said, as it is in certain sexual positions, woman on top, where her body forms as if a cathedral of body over the person under, she is the body that is dreaming this interiorizing dream drama of her feelings in that body as she sleeps (so, the picture is three layers: the glass onion, the lattice and the whoosh, REM is below).
but then while she bends down, to look at a lost lover, or someone, a hole opens up in the ice, or floor, she is able to look through the bottom of the lattice level, down the whoosh, into the darkness at the bottom of the whoosh (as a dream guide, she would be the Caretaker)
and I am going to say that the person at the bottom is splat in the splat spot at the bottom of a whoosh nightmare, being lost, sinking away, and it is not clear if she is wishing her away, just letting her go, or pulling her up
it is also possible that the hole in the layer makes of the nexus between them a kind of looking glass, which would lend a Narcissus reading to the work, but I won’t go this direction here (Caravaggio)
but then, it is to be noticed that below, her feet are solidly grounded
this is the sign of having, after a first nightmare, got up to look around, a walk which often entails walking gingerly around the “under the bed” space; then, up in the lattice, her buttocks and spine are being pressured, they kind of “split” as they do when in a less than fleshly body (like Joker (2019), for example, who at times looks like he is about to sprout wings)
the body shows stress on it by the protusion of the bone structure.
This means, scenically, in terms of the pressure on the body, that she is being pulled down, that is, the figure below is putting such pressure into that pull that he or she is winning, and pulling her, or trying to pull her down into that hole (this is a common trope in movies, the kiss that becomes too much, the giving in that becomes the pulling back, Albert Finney experienced this when he dreamt a deathbed encounter with his dead father in The Green Man (1990), at first wonderful, then it got scary).
But, then, the force that is doing this is not necessarily part of that second body, it is unclear exactly where the other arms come from, they might be phantom limb memories of when something like this happened before, they might be manifestations of the blackness of the splat zone at the bottom of the spiral whoosh to nightmare, below, in which case they give physical form to the upward grabbing power of spiraling whoosh to nightmare, they are quite the most mysterious element of the painting.
they are possibly part of an extra spin that the figure mired in the black bog can summon because she is something of a witch, or has extra, transfigural power, this would partake of spins which extend the province of the black pool out into ambient space lateral to hypnagogy, for her to spin back in with more punch, to pull the other figure down
this too, bizarrely, is also in doctor Sleep (2019), when Rose the Hat intrudes upon Abra’s Far-Being (King’s term for a further state of teleportation) and reaches invisibly out of the invisible link between them to (like the hand in the shower in The Grudge (2004), the signature event of the series, as noted in the poster for the 2020 remake)
touch her at the back of her head, an example of Far-being
Then too this part of the figuration is also the most spindly, suggesting that the ambient spins shown above also partook of the wriggling energy of a Night Line dream or nightmare in which one is wriggling through a tight tunnel spot, and then comes out as a spindly thing into the light; that is, this is wriggling figuration, but in painting (again, wriggling figuration occurred to me as a style impetus in May, 2018, I began to see that after having had the whole PTESd nervous breakdown post-November, 2016, artists had begun to surrender to the chaos, and realized they had to start from scratch in that chaos to then wriggle back into the light and meaning). This is that.
thus, though the title acknowledges the favored rhetorical tactic of Trump (he is criticized for saying something ridiculous, he responds, not by apologizing, or, as we like to say, “walking it back,” but by saying something even more ridiculous, he doubles down), which seems to have done so much damage to the minds of twitterers, it really strikes me that the upper figure started this painting by trying to calm a memory of a loved one who popped up in her mind, breaking through the level; but, then, try as she might, she seems to be pulled back down in, to suffer–it is not, in my view, a happy painting, but a psychomachia.
Then Quarles uses the same spatial elements in another one, It’s Gunna Be Alright (2019) (I think this is the title), this time the upper level manifests as a blanket being laid out and on at the beach, I suppose. This looks like the split musings of one body, very much at the lattice stage, the body above is the sunbathing body that has nodded off, almost for one to leave one’s body, then, then, inside, one is descending into dream space, below the lattice, where she as if in a lucid dream tries to see what she looks like to others, lying there all but nude; but then, also, on another level, she is dreaming some strangely compressed sexual nap dreams, as will come up when in that art of body culture called sunbathing you are forced to confront your body on a very intimate level in ways not normally sanctioned in public, such as putting on lotion, taking care not to burn intimate parts, getting sand in your crevices and pits, and all that, though in this one I think it actually depicts a nod off during an absenting of the body, the body wriggling and spindling happening in the whoosh, spiraling into a fear of nightmare.
Finally, I also like Only Right Twice a day, mainly because it has gone a bit further, by actually stepping out of the body consideration of the central core, to step on over into a lateral space, in, I think, a fairly shallow nod off zone. This could even be taking place in the Land of Nod, first stage hypnagogy, even, in fact, in what I call Kienholz Cabin, a waystation, where there is shrubbery representing the Forest of the Lost ahead, then the figure might well be the Hanged Woman, just a dreamy nodding passing form of one’s sense of body as one amphibiously crosses over from waking to dreaming, but here the blue dots of entoptic vigilogogy only translating into a hung-up all folded up like a sleeper couch body, before some presence of a body, in some chamber of the Village of dreams.
Quarles, in the cookiecut appraisal of art history-guided critics, a form of criticism which is nothing but double talk, is said to go in the direction of Francis Bacon, I think this is a misreading because the spaces are not the same (I still have not figured out what space Bacon inhabits most comfortably, or uncomfortably, but it is not this one)
or, other critics say, it might go all surrealism, Gorky, Matta, etc this in fact a more vigilogic ‘figuring out” or putting a skin on the stretcher to make of painting an inner meditation on the body, thus, lattice level again, body-centered
but at present, I think Quarles is doing excellent work which appeals to me specifically because in the nature of her forms and more importantly in the spindly and reaching nature of her bodies she is exploring hypnagogic space and its way of representing bodies to ourselves in our bodies, flipped up over consciousness, and this is a different formal regimen than the forms of vigilogogy also in the Radical Figures show. But, for me, though both are figurative, it is a case of apples and oranges. I at present, searching for dream guides, to unlock the secret language of film, and, now, by fusion, art, in its representations of special or altered states, I prefer hypnagogic art, as promising a new view of the human mind, in brain-based, full brain art which transcends the binary limits of rational or prefrontal-based art in modern times. Thus, while the curator of the show seems to want to try to go topsy-turvy to say that figuration is the most radical thing today (and it is true the motivations of social justice art, the primary wing of which is the large tranche of African, African-British and African-American artists who are simply, untheoretically, concerned with representing people of color in art in non-otherized ways, in so far as this corresponds to a movement of political protest linked to Wiley’s Obama Portrait and his Rumors of War–Wiley really having quite the moment in art!–it is “social justice” art, meaning figure is related to broader-than-art-world social means), in my view any discussion of breaking the binary based on the terms of the binary is doomed to failure, and any desire to change culture based on the terms of the culture is likewise to fail. It is only by–as seems to be happening much more in European art–doing a whole rethink of what the human brain at full throttle is capable of, how it lives in the world, how it manages and sees bodies, and then expanding upon visualizing that, that progress is made; for that, I happen to at present, February, 2020, in the eye of the storm, as it were, of this figural moment, think hypnagogic art is where it’s at, as it alone is exploratory and quite surgical enough to have a real potential to unlock real occult powers of the mind hitherto ignored by modern mankind.