The fool on the hill (by Olga Norris)

This thought bunch was triggered by a news item: a former Guantanamo guard apologising to two former prisoners.  During the interview one of the prisoners commented that translators at the prison did not always render correctly what had been said.  My immediate thought was how powerful translators are, and what a great contribution to one’s own abilities knowing another language is.

I read a lot of books by foreign authors, and am conscious of what a difference a good translation makes to the enjoyment and appreciation of the author’s work.  Indeed a good translator should be able to overcome some of an author’s language shortcomings – or should they?

As I mused further about being able to see both sides, and being able to take an overview, I turned to my recently broached topic of criticism – and to the power of the critic.  In the art world the late Clement Greenberg leaps to mind.  It was when I read the excellent Anthony Caro: Quest for the New Sculpture that I realised what a huge role Greenberg played in Caro’s development.

Shakespeare’s fools are often the eyes which can speak the politically unwise.  How good it would be to be our own fools: to stand on the hill and see both sides.  The difficulty arises when distance is not what is needed to develop good work.  Sometimes the blinkered determination of a clear but narrow view is what produces the great breakthrough – sometimes there is no translation because there is no equivalence.

I guess that’s when the translator’s art is most needed in the widest sense of interpretation.  And that is when we need their best work.  Should that translator be the most efficient, effective objective conduit, or like Greenberg have a substantial subjective input?  I think my own ambition in this field is to use both, to inform myself as much as possible so that I can be my own fool to look around at the whole landscape as well as my own patch of ground.

Is there however sufficient informed critique about contemporary textiles?  There are many descriptive articles informing us about the artists and their work.  Telos Art Publishing produce many beautiful books which inform us visually, and which have descriptive and biographical texts, but only three volumes of serious critique in their Reinventing Textiles series.  I reviewed the first two volumes, and was disappointed that so much obfuscatory academic-speak was employed.  I suppose that’s perhaps necessary to make sure that the text is not seen as more general articles for hobbyists. 

To be fair, magazines are improving.  Fiberarts, Surface Design, Embroidery are all including many more serious articles, and Craft Arts International I find excellent, although textiles is a minority subject there.  I used to subscribe to Sculpture magazine until the exchange rate made the cost prohibitive – there the work of artists such as Annette Messager and others who similarly use textile materials or techniques is discussed seriously within a wider context.  I miss those views, and just this minute while thinking of that loss, I have decided that instead of entering the lottery of the Quilt Visions exhibition I shall renew my subscription to Sculpture magazine.  So here I sit with my foolish grin, delighted in anticipation.

I think that there is a gap, a need for a wider serious (but not a pseudo-academic-self-importance-speak) critique of textiles such as that produced from time to time by Linda Millar (see her latest touring exhibition: Cultex) so that we can learn more about the wide landscape in which we are tilling our own soil.

4 Responses to “The fool on the hill (by Olga Norris)”

  1. 1 Suzanne DeCuir January 15, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Thanks for all the food for thought – is something wrong with me that I was in Home Depot yesterday considering a purchase of just that kind of blinds?

    As for the narrow view, I think it is precisely as you narrow your vision to the particular, the individual vision, that you are able to to get the universal, even if that is not your concern or intention.

    Lastly, I was just reading about Greenberg, and apparently he championed the work of Grace Hartigan, so at least one woman slipped through and into important exhibits.

  2. 2 clairan January 14, 2010 at 10:49 am

    I guess it’s my turn to ramble. . . . I not only remember those blinds, I have been using that theme/perception/idea in my work for years now. All my recent work is about windows and the glimpses we see through them. It was all inspired for me by Venetian blinds, remember them? I was an obsessive observer of the shadows cast by the blinds, and the interruption of pattern, and the creation of new pattern, they made. In my mind, this all relates as well to reflection, which brings us back to windows. June, you seem to be saying that remembering the blinds, and Hopper (and scenes briefly seen from elevated trains or passenger trains???) is “false nostalgia.” But why does it have to be false? It’s history, it’s our history, it affected our perceptions. I agree we don’t want to be overly conventional — trite — but I think when you keep working at something, Olga’s “narrow vision” you get closer to the personal and individual and farther from the conventional (assuming here we’re none of us particularly conventional thinkers or perceivers–I think I should put one of your in now).

    Olga, Greenberg was one of main keepers of the norm when it came to the Abstract Expressionists: no women, gays or people of color.

  3. 3 olganorris January 14, 2010 at 3:05 am

    No need to apologise – the sense I made is not necessarily the sense you meant, but hey, that’s life. I know exactly the blinds you mean – I just bust the spring in one in my mother’s room! Now I have to try to remember how I get that spring back.

    I was thinking of Hopper’s paintings while reading about your glimpses from outside. I love that kind of mystery – it fits with reading short stories too: that unconnected slice which tugs.

    Do we have to drag ourselves out of our reflections, our memories (noted experience, even if not factual) to deal with the present? Surely our ‘contemporary’ encompasses our lifetime – even if some of us do go back over 60 years or more. We just see further from our hill – it’s the reverse of myopia: the older we get the further we can see.

    Now I’m rambling, but enjoying it. Thanks.

  4. 4 June January 13, 2010 at 8:21 pm

    I’ve been reading about personal realities and cultural conventions, primarily the comments of Mark Stone at the Henri Art Magazine site, who often sends me off to other sources. Stone’s insistence on seeing truly, as opposed to seeing through the lenses of our surround of media, makes me aware of how conforming I often am to the cultural norms.

    I’m not sure how this fits with your metaphor of the hill, but it feels like there’s a connection. Going back and forth between the wide spatial view and the intense concentrated view can often interrupt conventions that we fall in to.

    More specifically, today I was thinking about glimpses of life seen when looks into lit windows from the outside. I had in my mind the old fashioned spring blinds, the kind with the cord with the plastic circle that you pulled on to lower them. I was thinking of what you saw, depending upon the height of the blind and the time of day, the way partial views could be had even with lowered blinds, mysteries never solved, interactions of people and things that would forever remain snapshots.

    But it occurred to me as I sat back a bit, that no one uses those blinds anymore — they are like a cultural convention which has been submerged and almost certainly lost to contemporary youngsters, except perhaps as quaint artifacts. Moreover, my own conception had roots in pictures of semi-illicit or titillating imagery that exist perhaps only in the minds of those of us who were sentient in the 1940’s and 1950’s. So I was falling into a kind of “false lying nostalgia” in my search for an image for a project I had in mind.

    That recognition was made, perhaps, from somewhere up on your hill. Now I will have to dig in, find my way down through the thickets of contemporary objects and artifacts and see if I can find an equivalent. And the equivalent is not exactly with the window and its blinds and the people inside, but something else entirely, a theme that I’m committed to working around and with. The burrowing in will begin again, trying to keep in mind that view from the top as well as the theme as well as truth as I see it manifested in my bodily presence.

    Hope this makes sense. Often such ruminations only make sense to the person ruminating. In that case, my apologies.

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