Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Grounding the Symbolic Realms - Peter Galison and Rebecca Belmore

- from Back to the World's weekly links posting "Tea With Chris":

I love Peter Galison and his concrete ways . He wrote a book about how it was probably pretty relevant that Einstein had a crappy job at the patent office where he had to think about how to synchronize clocks for train schedules – a very big problem at that time. It's an obvious idea once you think about – the obviousness a natural sign for a real genius idea. It feels better to think that something as abstract as the theory of relativity could originate from a problem in the world so newly created as "how to coordinate train schedules". One's mundane job feels better too. This New York Times article surveys his incredibly varied works.

Speaking of grounding the symbolic realms, this reminds me of how, reportedly, Buckminster Fuller had a pretty hard timeas a child understanding that the dots on the blackboard represented points in the world - and lines drawn between them represented connections. And how he tried to change the phrase "worldwide" with the more grounded "world around" but didn't have any luck.

Which makes me think of how strangely grounded the artist Rebecca Belmore's repetitive gestures are. Sometimes, when people are trying to be more direct with their art, they occasionally think to take their work off the canvas or pedastal or loom. Sometimes the results of this freedom can, unfortunately, become even more trapped by the medium of the gallery - as it can be a challenge for irregular forms or complicated messages to keep their shape outside this context. But the artist Rebecca Belmore always succeeds to escape both the mediums, the gallery boxes and the confusion.

If you're not familiar with Rebecca Belmore's work, Daniel Baird’s article in Walrus Magazine is a good survey of her work. Even if you haven't seen Belmore's work, it is hard not to be horribly moved by even Baird’s simple descriptions of her most famous performance pieces. The works are made up of ideas and gestures and performance. They performances' power are just as undiminished through video or account (though Daniel Baird is to be credited too here). Rebecca Belmore's repetitive gestures seem to be the gestures that she knows are missing in world - gestures of grieving or acceptance or making things right or simply known. Her gestures became part of the concrete world through sheer force of will, repetition and need. Though unconventional, the work communicates directly to anyone who can look.

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