Friday, November 8, 2013

The Birth of Art

Jennie Williams and Nathalie Frost
24" x 12". gouache on oil on canvas, 2012-3

Hand prints, or stencils, are considered the first paintings of human kind. They are a metaphor for the birth of art, and therefor touches on essential characteristics of art as we understand it to be. When, in 1941, the Lascaux caved were discovered, the French writer George Bataille was one of the first to see it. He wrote a book about it: Lascaux, or the Birth of Art. In the chapter When Men First Began to Play he differentiated play with work: Play, as opposed to work, serves no function towards the sustenance of of the human race or the player itself. It is, to use Maya Deren's words: "to conceive beyond necessity", an activity of leisure, a wasteful use of energy, a luxury good. Some years later, Jean-Luc Nancy, another French writer gives this spin of the traced hands: "The traced figure is the trace of the strangeness that comes like an open intimacy, an experience more internal than any intimacy, deep-set like the grotto, open like the aperity and the appearance of the wall. The traced figure is this very opening." In other words: when the walls of the caves, opaque as they are, through the image of the traced hand become a window to the world, they open up to a whole new world, the world beyond the material world as we see it, a world of imagination and creativity. These are the ideas behind this painting in which I intended to open up the opaque ground that is an existing top 100 painting and reintroduce that playful activity that a top 100 painting ought to be. The top 100 started as hobby, and will remain that way (essentially). The existing painting is of two Inuit girls playfully performing a katajjaq (which is a type of throat-singing that is considered just a game). The girls, Jennie and Nathalie, in close proximity, looking each other in the eyes, sing to each other until one wins the game, that is when one misses a beat or starts laughing. This is the end of the song in which was imitative of sounds from nature. Jennie and Nathalie are distant descendents of the people who projected their hands on the cave wall, who migrated north to Siberia, crossed the Bering Strait, and settled in North America. We are too, most all of us, descendents of these peoples that struck Bataille, and Nancy, and Deren too, with awe. And we continue to play, to make our marks on a box car or concrete overpass, to draw a mustache on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa, draw a straight line on a map and walk it too.
I wasn't able to control the painting (but I wiped away the paint that covered Jennie's face). It didn't feel like play (there was no laughter).
Art is defiant
Art is subversive
Art is laughter
Art is—war was, worship—warship, ashes to ashes—dust to dust

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