Category Archives: Art
by Joshua Mason, Fieldwork Studios
Eruption Against the Sun, Joshua Mason
As an emergent feature of the Sun’s energy economy, organic life is subject to entropic necessity. Life as a manifestation of necrogenic vitality is inherently entwined with death. Painting, as an intensification of life, is an artifact of the humic indwelling. It is earthbound, composed of the nigredo of Earth. As an artifact of time’s arrow, painting is founded on a millennia of extinctions.
Painting is a confrontation with death because it is an intensification of life. What I mean by that is perhaps that the painter is one who evokes images out of the chaos of the world, and this process is an intensification of being as it confronts directly the materiality of the world. This confrontation with materials is a confrontation with catastrophe, even Becoming itself. Death is a vector of exteriorization or that loosening into the abyss. The life/death is in every mark, every instant impact of the material, as there persists the cyclical trajectory: life, death, rebirth, life, death, rebirth…
…And so it is with everything else: energies are never created or destroyed, only transformed from one to another.
The symbolic dimension of life/death ungrounds us: life, as an emergent feature of the solar economy, does not exist on a solid foundation. Everything is in a process of transformation. This process-oriented reality is unsettling for our identity. Reified and static wholes collapse in the realization that all matter is in a state of constant change.
This constant change is indicative of sheer potency, as nature-naturing or nature doing what nature does. Nature-naturing never ceases enumerations, contrasts, combinations spatially, linearly or chromatically. This ought to inform the materiality of practice.
The Moderns preached constraints of a particular medium, and later, the redefinition in terms of specific productions of meaning. This has to do with the construction of general cultural categories and typologies of art, which are both necessary and important, but little to do with the conditions – natural, instinctual, preexistent. There is the energy of nature-naturing, as sheer potency. From this position, which is a vanishing point because it is preordinal, the entire horizon of material embodiment and the enunciative field are encompassed. Although it is not possible to represent this vanishing point, it is possible to observe its self-possessed effects. There is no relevance to constraint for the sake of constraint in the medium, as if the demand for objective purposes could also encase a transcendental truth. Conditions can never be constrained, consolidated, determined as if they were stable.
What shifts through this orientation is the concern of art’s position. The particulars of art and exhibition, as materiality and enunciative field, are constituted and dispersed out of processes of ‘nature doing what nature does.’ No works of art are birthed out of a void, but are in keeping with the law of Conservation of Energy. Potency is a constant force that permeates the field; it generates all of the varying contingencies (objects, actions, ideas, texts, strategies, interpretations, etc.) The associated categories of life, art, text, commitment, are reconsidered under the potent condition that emanates their organization.
And while the Earth has often been a subject to painting, painting is subject to the Earth.
Deposition is a particular emphasis on the geologic qualities of painting. It is an encounter with the factuality of painting. But it is also a matter for aesthetic reflection. Painting’s factuality thus exists in correspondence with the imagination in its ability to evoke images. Forces engender forms and cross over into compositions and compositions cross over into forces outside of painterly agency, as a constant tension. The identity is always on the verge of sinking under the sediment.
The mere fact of the paint is never the entire aim, however, just as technique is never really the only concern, because content persists: painting is an involved process. The geologic process is unique in regards to other, more refined possibilities, because it consists of the potential towards self-differentiation. Involvement with this kind of painting tends to dissipate the abstract will (identity) into mineralization, asserting a corporeality and a kind of embodiment that appears immanent. The aim of aesthetic reflection is to therefore see oneself within this self-differentiation, as being encompassed by it, and ultimately, as a consequence of its condition.
In regards to painting’s self-referentiality, it is essentially a confrontation with its own death, or more specifically, with that chasm between painting’s ontology and the vanishing point.
Can I come to see myself as constituted by the world of contingency, as in a state of constant change? In what hidden or unrepresentable ways does this process of nature express the site where factuality meets the logos? This geology, as condition of possibility for the humic indwelling, determines the incarnation of ‘the flesh’ The flesh is the texture of worlds. The matter at hand is therefore what matters, or the mattering of matter: an alchemical process turning dross into gold, as an inflection by the ghost of beauty incarnate in the flesh.
…density, duration, animation, dissipation – ‘the creation of the world of art is the creation of the world,’ said Kandinsky.
Reposted with minor edits from Not So Solid Earth: Mineralizing the Imagination
by Joshua Mason
Editor’s Note: This essay is based on Mason’s presentation at DePaul University last October. See Part I here.
To ask ‘What is the lay of the land?’ is to ask what the land looks at when it sees itself.
I’ve continued to photograph mirrors in the landscape. Of course the mirror has become a symbol retaining a long history and meaning, from reflection and perception to a stage in the formation of subjects, etc.. Is it a symbol of our seizure by desire, a beautiful hallucination, or is it the artist’s embraced place allowing for artistic liberty? Is it a way of looking at the world implying a psychological opening? All works of art are quotations of moments of the reflectivity as visual proof of one’s existence—it is ‘here I am’ for a time—but art is a terrain truly of that which is not me. As an artist I am not reflected in the mirror. The mirror is also an abyss, shedding our interpretation for an unaccountable infinity. The other of us that it reflects is the stranger of the mirror itself.
Critchley, paraphrasing Socrates, says that to do philosophy is “to learn how to die.” I think something similar ought to be said about doing art, which is after all a form of philosophy. We are all subject to finitude. I think every artist who is sensitive to their craft knows this on an intuitive level: they feel it in the materials, at the edge of the catastrophic. As an artist I am conditioned by my own extinction.
Certain abstractionists wanted surfaces to be smooth, streamlined, hygienic—a sterilized picture plane, an insinuation of reduction of nature, complexity and chance. But time asserts itself upon sleek surfaces. Malevich, for example, who wanted to break from the earth and in whose discourse the earth takes on negative valences. The Black Square, nevertheless, as one of the pivotal works of twentieth century art has cracks upon the painted surface. It is the revenge of the geomorphic quality of painting.
The Extinctions series is a recent set of photographs. I am using a black square placed into the landscape. It cuts into the landscape like a black hole. It places a bomb in between images and the associations attached to them.
Escaping from words and into being, to be silent in the face of a work of art is to practice that silence elsewhere in the face of other objects. That being is catastrophic, poised always at the edge. It is subject to materialization and decomposition, sedimentation and erosion—to becoming. From confrontation with the edge, I look at nature in wonderment and trepidation. I am interested in geomorphic tendencies to mineralize the imagination. I am caught up in excitation and intensity. I am interested in speculating on my own disappearance in the midst of nature. To stretch out beyond oneself in a condition of difference, to that which loses the intellect. When this occurs the initial question—what is the lay of the land?—disappears.
All photographs by the author.
 The mirror, traditionally associated with identity, is placed into the natural environment: the forest, the field, the shoreline. I am not reflected in the mirror because it is important that in the face of nature I attempt to displace identity. The beholder also sees the photograph of nature that includes the mirror but the mirror does not reflect the beholder: instead what appears in the mirror is the forest, the field, the shoreline—the land looking at itself, captured in a moment.
 See Malevich to Mikhail Matyushin, June 1916, cited in Zhadova, Malevich, 124, n 39. The symbol even of the negation is itself subject to nature’s ubiquity: entropy, erosion, sedimentation, disposition, weathering, time—becoming.
 Geologic catastrophism covers over the culture of painting like a landslide.
 A dream of escaping from words into being. Leaving the realm of conventions behind—historic, linguistic —in order to attain immediacy, moving signification out of the realm of the discursive where the object’s meaning would be the essence itself. To the challenge of the crisis of the sign, via signing and naming nature, via the image and its association, the black square is an extinction.