Tuesday, August 6, 2019

looking out/ looking in (part II): a view of the horizon

the wall (absent)
acrylic on canvas, 36x48", 2019, © priya vadhyar

Continuing from the previous post, the second assignment was about writing an homage to the theoretical question distilled from the art review. We were asked to create a collage of "beautiful sentences" from art theory, literature, music, the internet, etc., and to to play with those sentences while thinking more about the question. 

Antony Gromley’s sculptures at the ruins of Delos seem to gaze outward. And in doing so, notes Rachel Spence, “…our eyes turn inward.” Virginia Woolf in To the Lighthouse also speaks of gazing outward and being transformed by the act: “Losing personality, one lost the fret, the hurry, the stir; and there rose to her lips always some exclamation of triumph over life when things came together in this peace, this rest, this eternity; and pausing there she looked out to meet that stroke of the Lighthouse, the long steady stroke, the last of the three, which was her stroke… Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at - that light, for instance.” 


Becoming the thing she looked at. Does the sublime evoke a similar becoming? Does one become the horizon; the expanse of time and space? Does one lose personality (the minute details of one’s life) to become that vastness? Back at Delos, I imagine a visitor examining one of Gromley’s figures and stepping between the figure and the view of the horizon. The gaze is obstructed, and now the figure gazes at the visitor. Who is looking at whom? Marina Ambramović’s The Artist is Present comes to mind. Looking into Ambramović’s eyes, and being looked at by the artist in return. A mutual gaze. What kind of transformation are we witnessing? “Time went by and the man at the table was no longer weeping. He was leaning in toward the woman. Everything between the man and the woman became microscopic. Levin felt that something was lifting right out of the man and creeping away. … The woman seemed to become enormous, as if she stretched out and touched the walls and stood as tall as all six floors of the atrium.”* 


We are transformed not only by what we look at but also being looked at in return. Do powerful works of art do just that? Do they look back at us? At our inner world that is just as vast?“For there was an entire universe in that room, a miniature cosmology that contained all that is most vast, most distant, most unknowable. It was a shrine, hardly bigger than a body, in praise of all that exists beyond the body: the representation of one man's inner world, even to the slightest detail.” Anais Nin says, “We don't see things as they are; we see them as we are.”** 

On the wall.

Why do we gaze outward to gaze inward? “I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence, even through memory or imagination, can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.”*** To ask questions to answers we already know? To remember when we forget? Again. And again. And again.

* Heather Rose, The Museum of Modern Love  
** Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude
*** John O’Donohue in conversation with Krista Tippett

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