Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Unus Mundus (or a thank you note for my independent study professor consisting of what I learned about myself/the grid)


The universe has an underlying system of order, it just happened to take me twenty-something years to notice the kinds of profound possibilities that were wrapped up in that system. There are things I know I can never control and then there are things that I’ve never even thought to question; I may have always pondered the meaning of life, but in all my years of attraction to the comforting sight of a sheet of graph paper, never once did I attempt to find out who designed the universal concept of the grid and for what purpose. And okay, so maybe I still don’t really have that many more answers so much as a lot more questions, but now I do know the name Euclid and the adjective Cartesian (which came from the ideas of Rene Descartes, in case you were wondering) and I know that this new Cartesian grid system led to the innovation of perspective and that it emphasized rational thinking instead of the spiritual ideas that the grid was always based on the cross. Ideas of perspective led to countless innovations in Medieval and Renaissance art, but those things have never interested me as much as the times when artists and thinkers admit that “x is already known” and begin to question what other ways these known systems can be broken down. C├ęzanne is my go-to man here, he abandoned illusionism and emphasized the flat field of the picture plane by simplifying nature into its geometric essentials. Mondrian also intrigues me for his logical isolation of the grid and by not quite letting his lines reach the edge, he seems to hint that what you see is merely a window into the infinite. Genius, that guy.
            But grids exist in much more practical ways than just painting, they order our lives. They give us ways to two-dimensionally describe both the passage of time and the space that surrounds us. I guess at some point in grade school we were taught how to read a grid or a map but it quickly becomes an instinctive action, we immediately understand a complex amount of information from very little given signs. An impressive feat that I always took for granted and had never considered it as a way to immediately connect to an audience through the familiarity of this kind of visual language. Once you realize the prevalence of the systems that surround you, you realize both their practicality and their power. These systems are inescapable and they control our lives much more than our mothers ever could. I keep saying systems in a very ambiguous way, but what I’ve always been interested in is architecture.
I think everyone has a couple moments in life when you really do feel like the lightbulb that is mysteriously floating above your head just starts to glow out of nowhere; I had one of those during the first architectural history lecture I ever sat through (even though I had initially entered the program with the hopes of designing cars or furniture). It was like once I had been made aware of the thought, detail and organization that has gone into every structure I’d experienced every important moment of my life in, I couldn’t exist in any physical space without being conscious of the details I had ignored for so long and the power they had always had over my life. But enough about my eye-opening experience, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my head was way too high in the clouds to function as an architect (or maybe I’ve always been afraid to have that much power over the lives of others, eh Freud?) So what do you do when you realize that what has come before you artistically is understood and therefore boring and that you don’t want to participate in the creation of the systems that actually govern our daily lives? You read a lot of books and go to art school and you eventually discover that there are ways of creating three-dimensional, site-specific works that do have the power of altering a viewer’s perception without the responsibility that comes with designing completely functional structures.
            Is it too utopian to think that there’s a way to make someone become more aware of their surroundings and the temporality of each fleeting moment? I don’t think so. Discovering the works of Gordon Matta Clark, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd and Robert Smithson renewed my hope in these ideas that have always consumed me. This idea that there can be a connection between art and architecture in a more poetic than practical way haunts me at all times, it is so empowering. Discovering these concepts that had always been foreign to me has caused me to want to consume these artist’s ideas however I possibly can, whether it means reading their writings or getting the chance to go to a place like Marfa and experience their ideas first-hand. I feel like I have so much lost-time to make up for, that these are the kinds of things I was always searching for without ever knowing they existed. But if I get into my preoccupation with the passage of time, I’ll completely lose my already somewhat incoherent train of thought.
            Systems. Awareness of these systems. Deconstruction of these systems. Finding the balance between predictable and playful. Existing in a fictional world between the chaos of the rhizome and the structure of the tree. These are the kinds of things that I want to continue to explore with my work. Knowing that I can’t escape from intellectual intuition and the structural aspects that will appear in my work regardless of how hard I try to “loosen up” and finding a way to make that work for me in different situations. Finding ways to make two-dimensional concepts three-dimensional and to convey three-dimensional structures in two-dimensions; whether this means continuing my paintings of architectural facades in which I aim to both humanize and draw attention to the details of the structures that contain and define our lives or whether it means I begin to make sculptural objects that utilize flat, geometric shapes in ways that begin to confuse the distinction between object and painting, or whether I continue to portray individuals as a result of their fragmented experiences.
            Like I said before, at the end of all this, I may not have many answers so much as many more questions, but I feel like they are the right questions, important questions. I feel like my set of tools has grown immensely, both in terms of acquiring knowledge of other artists working with similar ideas and in terms of having a new philosophical understanding of some very powerful concepts. I know now that I don’t need to know where I am going to end up before I start heading in that direction. I know that everything, all of it, is related and that the architecture classes, the periods of excessive reading in seclusion, the rejection of formal training in favor of exploring ideas, has contributed to the person I have become. I know that if I continue to explore and question these ideas, that the answers will come to me, and with them, even more questions. I know that literature, architecture and art are inseparably linked in my mind and process and that I don’t ever have to choose between them. I know that this isn’t the paper that I sat down to write and that it might not be at all what you wanted, but it came so naturally. I feel so much more confident in both my work and my ability to convey my ideas now, even if I do occasionally talk in circles and trip over my tongue. This entire experience has made me feel a lot less alone in this crazy structured universe that we live in and I guess what I wanted to get at with all of this is THANK YOU, for allowing me to ask all of the specific questions I wanted and not making me deal with the ones that I didn’t. I have grown more in this class intellectually, artistically and as a person than ever before and I think it is because your class and just being around you makes all three of those aspects seem so intimately connected. You really do teach being and I’ve never been more excited to get out of school and just be.

Eternally grateful,
Katie

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