Objects of a dysfunctional time: PETER SHIRE’s TEAPOTS

At MOCA Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles

 

MUSICAL, WHISPERING VOICES

 by Rosanna Albertini

Photos: Hannah Kirby

One can look at them naked, or encrusted with the shells of futurism, art deco, Milanese design, post modernism, California surrealism, like the door of a lobster cage. I would prefer to put all the verbal definitions into a fishnet and throw them deep into the ocean. The abandonment of the teapots to themselves “is an act of generosity,” as Mario Merz would say, “deciphering is the will to die.”

They are sirens these teapots singing the music of colors and forms: an endless, nostalgic song longing for water. Their nose too big, too long for their body, and the body shrunk like a musical instrument, or borrowing heaviness from a building, or eternalizing a fruit that tries to preserve the beauty of a flower and misses the branch moved by the wind. The teapots know there is no use for them. They are sculptures, born from an artist who likes to lie on the void, trying to forget rules and all the rational roads to understanding. Search for beauty is a source of anxiety.

“to orient
not to compel
to orient
in architecture
as in sculpture
like in a drawing of oriental vocal sensibilities
that is to say musical”
— Mario Merz

“All value depends upon somebody else’s opinion. For it is the essence of this philosophy that things have no independent existence, but live only in the eye of other people. It is a looking-glass world, this, to which we climb slowly; and its prizes are all reflexions. That may amount for our baffled feelings as we shuffle, and shuffle vainly, among those urban pages for something hard to lay our hands upon. Hardness is the last thing we shall find.”
— Virginia Woolf

That’s why there is no futurISM in these teapots, no celebration of civil and warlike mechanical machineries expected to pierce the present with energy, violent breaks, and, at least verbally, to introduce hardness. Instead, the teapots are a whispering voice, like the French and Italian words avenir, l’avvenire. From the late Latin ad-venire.

I find their softness and I don’t know what it is that touches me, unless what I like is just the uncertainty about what they are. They are displaced and useless, but searching for their face to face with us. The human side which is in them, the artist’s making, meets other humans in a present which is constantly coming to be, fleeting and incapable of standing as an accomplished future. Displacement is everywhere: between words and things, dreams and reality, thinking and making. What a dysfunctional time!

And yet, I miss stroking them, giving them a caress. I can only send them a philosophical caress, the most beautiful I found.

“The caress doesn’t know what she looks for. Such ‘not knowing’ such fundamental incongruence, is essential.” “The caress is waiting for a pure time to come, time without a content. She is made with growing hunger, and more and more enticing promises, which brings new perspectives on the things we cannot grasp.”
— Emmanuel Lévinas

Mario Merz, Lo spazio e curvo e diritto, Firenze, Hopeful Monster Editore, 1990

Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader, London, The Hogarth Press, 1935

Emmanuel Lévinas, Le temps et l’autre, @Fata Morgana, 1979. First edition February 1983, PUF, Paris.

 

MEMENTOS 2

SAM ERENBERG: COLORS ARE THE SHADOW’S SCREAMS

(Free adaptation into English from Edmond Jabès)

by ROSANNA ALBERTINI

FIRST SINO-JAPANESE WAR Battle of Songhwan

1894 -1895 FIRST SINO-JAPANESE WAR
Battle of Songhwan (Wikipedia)

FIRST SINO-JAPANESE WAR Japanese soldiers beheading 38 Chinese soldiers as a worming to others. By Utagawa Kokunimasa

FIRST SINO-JAPANESE WAR
Japanese soldiers beheading 38 Chinese soldiers as a worning to others. By Utagawa Kokunimasa (Wikipedia)





 

 

 

ARGENTINA 1890: Revolution of the Park.  Revolutionary barricade protecting the Buenos Aires Artillery Park.

ARGENTINA 1890: REVOLUTION OF THE PARK.
Barricade protecting the Buenos Aires Artillery Park. 

 

THE 1898 SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR 3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Battalion awaiting orders to charge the Spanish

CUBA: THE 1898 SPANISH-AMERICAN WAR
3rd Wisconsin Volunteer Battalion awaiting orders to charge the Spanish (Wikipedia)

CHILE 1891 - GUERRA CIVIL Batalla de Placilla

CHILE 1891 – GUERRA CIVIL
Batalla de Placilla (Wikipedia)

They are colors for wars. Since Humans can’t do without wars since the beginning, we walk across their fields searching for whys. We hardly find them. Mostly, there are myths and beliefs; no equivalent between the whys of the specific time and place of a war and our own. Yet, we throw questions on photographs, paintings and written words as if some truth might trespass. It’s the curse of thinking. As if time had made it better, ripe like a perfectly soft persimmon. The “bitch-goddess of blind objectivity” offers us the persimmon as the snake did, tempting Adam and Eve with an apple. Eat it, and blindness will be inevitable.

Oddly enough, more conflicts, cultural, started in modern times among and between the fellows of photographs, paintings, moving images, written or spoken words. My friend Bianca Sforni, after reading Memento 1, History in Watercolors, brought to my table a book by Susan Sontag I had never read: Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003. I devoured it. And I felt like the boa in Le Petit Prince, but with two elephants in my belly: the large body of war images and the moral presence of a biblical elephant repeating over and over: “you shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing.

Sam Erenberg’s watercolors float on paper like the music tunes in the air, having a different kind of absorption. They seem to resurface after sinking into layers of shadows. Better not to reduce them to reasonable patterns or wishful considerations, feelings, meanings… language would limp. Sounds from darkness, whispers of pain, heartbeats, heath, emptiness, mutilations, winds, they speak through the music of colors. We can only imagine. Dates and name of the country introduce one more abstraction, like inscriptions on gravestones. We see what we miss. Despite the growth of sciences, human reason does not progress. We thought intelligence could help us to see clear in ourself and around us, but we can only count on our imagination: the immense machine we are is the first unknown territory we live in. Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “Reason is the faculty to organize all the faculties of our soul according to the nature of things and their relations to us.” In this environment abstraction becomes one of the many tools, not the goal.

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: Argentina 1890 Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008 Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: Argentina 1890 Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: China 1894, Watercolor 16 x 12 inc., 2008 Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: China 1894, Watercolor 16 x 12 inc., 2008
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: Chile 1891, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc> Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: Chile 1891, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc.
Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: Cuba 1898-1902, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc> Courtesy of the artist

SAM ERENBERG, Mementos: Cuba 1898-1902, Watercolor, 16 x 12 inc.
Courtesy of the artist

Henry James declared to the New York Times in 1915: “The war has used up words; they have weakened, they have deteriorated…” Virginia Woolf during the Spanish Civil War: “Photographs are not an argument; they are simply a crude statement of fact addressed to the eye.” Her revulsion to war is irreducible: war is a man’s game. (Quotes of two masters of words from Sontag’s book) Edmond Jabès: “Le mot ne meurt pas come un homme, mais come un vocable. Avec lui, s’émiette l’univers. The word doesn’t die  like a human, rather like a piece of vocabulary. Along with him, the universe crumbles.

I felt I was losing my mind on December 10, 2001, looking at the “ground zero” landscape in New York, during the nocturnal search for bodies in a hell of debris: a color picture by Edward Keating was on The New York Times’ first page. The center of the image dominated by the back of an ironworker: he stands, but one cannot say he is resting. He looks down at the white blow of dust, or smoke, hard to tell which, as white as a bridge of light. This man’s back is not asleep. What about us? Do we really “sleep our lives?” Do we sleep our writing, our understanding of artworks, resting on a reasonable background that we call theories? Are our systems of thought only fables we make up, to fill the gap between the unaccountable lack of meaning in which we swim every day, and our need for illusion, so deeply rooted that we cannot restrain our minds from liking the absurd act of working, shaping and reshaping intellectual textures or connections?

The fact is that art is not reasonable at all. Art is our best reminder that we are physical entities, mainly connected by a nonverbal exchange. In this sense, as Louise Bourgeois kept saying, art guarantees our mental sanity. Stuck in our search for intellectual truth as a naked tool, we hook ourselves to the sky. But down here there is no escape. Religion of freedom, cult of uniformity and art of forgetfulness — undertaken by centuries of industrial machinery — have cast human brains in iron. I wish they could melt along with Erenberg’s visual stories, and restart breathing.

La parole est dans le souffle, comme la terre est dans le temps. (Edmond Jabès)

Words lie in breath, like the earth lies in time.