FRANK MASI : THE REMOTE LIFE OF IMAGES
after his recent journey to Japan
Rosanna Albertini to Frank Masi — Los Angeles, December 2018
Your photographs of Japan are a dream of unreality. They are beautiful in an odd, almost disquieting way. I look at them and think, maybe Japan is not the point. The man I met many times in the past is a well organized, a practical person in love with the arts, and a very interesting collector of art. But these images that you grabbed and printed: the partial opacity of a window through which you saw the uncertainty of a blurred garden, and the frame of leaves tickling your curiosity; your oblique gaze through another window big this time that seems to protect from intrusion the peace of an inner space; the silent observation of manufactured clay cups waiting to dry – you call them ‘quiet’- these are works of a dreamer. A less mercantile term than the word artist.
Did you ever meet Fernando Pessoa?
“In dealing with any object, the dreamer should try to feel the clear indifference that that object, taken as an object, inspires. The dreamer should know, with an immediate instinct, how to abstract from each object or event anything in it that is dreamable, leaving for dead in the Exterior World anything in it that is real — this is what the wise man should seek to achieve in himself.” The Book of Disquiet
Still drying Kutani clay / quiet tools / no wind no fire / waiting
Haiku by Frank Masi
It seems to me that’s exactly what you do, whether the object of your attention is a river, a branch, a stone in a forest or an old wooden house falling apart, or a pair of pink gloves hung behind a glass door of a simple house, a daily routine sanctuary. Don’t mistake me, pulling the door of history shut behind you makes you free from the devils of History, objectivity and documentation. But then, is Japan as a real country the center of your work? And, does it matter? Problem: the questions come from a limited experience that came to me via Japanese artists and friends in Los Angeles. My gardener Eto is my largest source of information. He was born near Hiroshima. He is reader of old poems whose language is today obsolete, forgotten. He remembers trucks filled with corpses passing by his village, and stories of his life as an after war child, when he and his school friends worked in the countryside cutting vegetation with machetes. By accident, the head of one of them was cut along with the leaves. See, History is a bitch, a cutting weapon against art.
Fact is, looking at your photographs I didn’t think of Japan, I mainly tried to unveil your perception while you captured moments that became images and in so doing mutated, moving from the surrounding reality to your instinct that hunted for silent meaning in a dreamed landscape. Photography is a surgical act, images are cut out from the body of reality. And yet it’s an act that guides me to your own sensations. Your images are the two faces of the same human reality: preservation of nature and urban variety of dignity and decay.
Forest shadow moss / mountain child rock / river clouds / sky somewhere
Haiku by Frank Masi
Visually omitted, the human presence is embedded in the scape of the land. And your eyes through the camera seem to rediscover fragments of a remote life in places and objects, a life that escapes time as well as control. Objects and landscapes are more foreign than national identities. Maybe I felt something similar on a beach in Turkey, such a pristine and isolated site that I almost forgot about civilized life. There was no sand, only red pebbles with round shapes sculpted by the waves. Not rocks, they were remains of pottery from ships sunk to the bottom of the ocean during ancient storms. I was walking on naked bones.
“Nature is not mechanical to that extent for all its mornings and evenings, for all its inhabitants of China, or India or Russia, for all its waves, or its leaves, or its hands. Its prodigy is not identity but resemblance and its universe of reproduction is not an assembly line but an incessant creation. Because this is so in nature, it is so in metaphor.” Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel
“The true poem [or painting, or photograph] is not the work of the individual artist; it is the universe itself, the one work of art which is forever perfecting itself.” Ernst Cassirer, An Essay On Man
I must tell you, your photographs of Japan brought me into a cloud of nostalgia, reopening themes that never leave this blog, like termites attacking an old piece of wood. Nostalgia not for Japan, where I’ve never been, I’m thinking rather of an intellectual paradise with many comfortable chairs and humans sharing, comparing ideas, sometimes fighting to the death around the objects of their efforts, hoping to understand and to enjoy tremendously, face to face, the mysterious disconnection between images and words. How many times do we really feel the power of our voice, a sound which adds time and physicality to the bunch of words that we call ideas? Once more, writing eliminates sounds. Thoughts for eyes, strange as they are.
We are not far from Christmas, maybe the tail of The Kite will turn into a comet, and lift your images in a luminous constellation.
I wish I had a kimono / and walked with others /wearing kimonos
Haiku by Frank Masi
Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, Translated by Alfred Mac Adam, Exact Change, Boston, 1998
Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel, Essays on Reality and Imagination, Vintage Books, New York, 1942-1951
Ernst Cassirer, An Essay On Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture, Yale & New Haven, 1944