Meinem langjährigen Freund und Geistesbruder Robert Linsley gewidmet, der am 2. Februar 2017 durch einen tragischen Unfall ums Leben kam
Das neue Modell der Wirklichkeit, das die Quantenphysik seit den 1940er Jahren theoretisch (und seit den erfolgreichen experimentellen Bestätigungen des letzten Jahrzehnts) nunmehr unleugbar nahelegt, sieht in der ausgefalteten Realität unendlich viele verborgene Einfaltungen, d.h. der expliziten Welt, mit der unser Auge sich förmlich zubaut, sind unendlich viele Vielleichts implizit.
Die bewusste Gleichzeitigkeit von realen Versatzstücken und Erscheinungen im Stadium der Möglichkeit oder „in statu nascendi“ in einem Bild- oder Klangfeld verweist auf zwei Theoretiker, die bis heute der philosophischen Avantgarde als Anregung dienen. Der Physiker David Bohm und der Maler Wolfgang Paalen entwickelten nahezu gleichzeitig und ohne voneinander Kenntnis zu haben in den 1940er Jahren unter dem Eindruck der Quantentheorie ihre deckungsgleichen Lehrsätze der „impliziten“ oder „eingefalteten“ Ordnung, die zusammen mit dem (sichtbaren) „expliziten“ oder „entfalteten“ Universums ein bruchloses ganzheitliches Feld bilden. David Bohm veranschaulichte die eingefaltete Ordnung experimentell-metaphorisch mit einem Tropfen (z.B. Tinte), der in ein Gefäß gefüllt wird, in dem sich eine andere Flüssigkeit befindet (Glycerin) und ein Zylinder. Werde nun dieser Zylinder gedreht, ziehe sich der Faden langsam zu einem immer feineren Band auseinander, bis er sich ganz auflöst; da er nun aber nicht verschwunden ist, bleibt er „implizit“ vorhanden und kann bei einer Gegendrehung des Zylinders wieder „sichtbar“ gemacht werden.
Angeregt von diesen neuen Sichtweisen in der Mikrophysik entwickelten parallel dazu Künstler der 1940er Jahre, wie Wolfgang Paalen, Mark Rothko oder Jackson Pollock, ein Konzept des Bildraums, das auf der Idee des Unsichtbaren als ein „Noch-nicht-Sichtbares“ oder „Mögliches“ beruhten und alte metaphysische Modelle des Absoluten, wie sie noch bei Kandinsky oder Mondrian aktiv waren, ersetzten. Was wenigen bewusst ist: diesen Ansätzen gingen häufig intensive Auseinandersetzungen mit dem Bildgegenstand voraus – Pollock begann sogar fast alle seiner Drippings mit einem gegenständlichen Motiv – im Unterschied zum Kubismus, der ja ebenfalls dezidiert am Sujet festhielt, wurde hier der Betrachter selbst zum Bildgegenstand erklärt (z.B. durch Einforderung bestimmter Betrachtungsabstände im Einklang mit den enormen Formatgrößen). Fortgeführt wurden die Ansätze Paalens und Bohms zum Beispiel durch die philosophischen Überlegungen des kürzlich verstorbenen englisch-indischen Gelehrten Roy Bhaskars (Oxfort/London/Neu Delhi). Mit dem von ihm begründeten Kritischen Realismus beschrieb er genau die Konsequenzen dieser neuen, gleichsam doppelbödigen Natur der Wirklichkeits–wahrnehmung: „Wirklichkeiten, implizit, eingefaltet oder zusammen gegenwärtig innerhalb einer Sache, erfordern zwei Weisen der Wahrnehmung. Der Lehrsatz des impliziten/expliziten Umgebungsraumes bindet ausgeprägte (oder besondere) Wahrnehmungsfähigkeiten in den Prozess der Wirklichkeitsfindung mit ein und erlaubt den Zugang sowohl zu weiteren Dimensionen der Realität (inkl. ihrer weltgeschichtlichen und tendentiell gegenwärtigen Abläufe) als auch zu der Entfaltung größerer Bereiche des Seins, die innerhalb dieser Sache eingefaltet sind (inkl. ihrer karmischen Verbindungen mit anderen Sachen). Das Phänomen der Co-Präsenz eröffnet deshalb neue und erweiterte Weisen des Sehens, gemäß unseres erweiterten neuen Verständnisses der Dimensionen, Ebenen oder Weisen des Seins (und Zusammen-/Ineinanderwirkens einer Sache). Auf diese Weise können wir mehr Dinge und mehr von einer Sache, in einer Sache oder einem Ereignis sehen, die jeweils zudem als konkret universell anzusehen sind.“
 Roy Bhaskar, Reflections on metaReality: Transcendance, Emancipation and Everyday Life, A Philosophy For the Present (New Delhi/London 2002), S. 235 (aus dem Englischen von Andreas Neufert)
CONVERSATION WITH ROBERT LINSLEY, 2007
Robert Linsley) Andreas, we know that abstract expressionism has deep roots in surrealism, and we also know that it was very important for the abstract expressionists to break with surrealism, and that the break was not just a matter of independence from European models, but an expression of important aesthetic differences. We are going to discuss these matters in depth, but the obvious question is the relevance of ideas such as „possibility space“ for us today. I know that your thoughts on this topic are grounded in your research on Wolfgang Paalen; can we start with a description of what Paalen meant by a space of possibilities?
Andreas Neufert) For me, „possibility“ as a category has always been something subjunctive and hypothetical, and I suppose it was the same for Paalen. What is the point that a possible idea becomes an idea? Are there various pre-ideas, like informal shadows that appear before? Is presentiment or emotional agitation a sign that a possibility is about to emerge from its non-reality? To put it briefly, the whole thing is as polycausal as it is mysterious. As Paalen was a painter above all, the most precise description of what he meant with possibility space lies in his paintings, which we can´t analyze here. But we also have his writings. I ‘ve recently had the opportunity to study his letters and diaries. There are also his theoretical writings, which he published in his magazine DYN, based in Mexico and New York from 1942-44, the collection of essays, which was published by Robert Motherwell in 1945, and his essay “Metaplastic,” for the Dynaton show in 1949 in San Francisco, which summarizes again the theoretical foundation of the concept of space that he had developed in the early forties. All his theoretical ideas are linked to the feeling of an unfolding world, to curiosity as energy, to the real sense of discovery, such as drives a scientist. It is linked essentially to the future and not to the past in the sense of a re-discovery of something already known or realized. DYN comes from the greek word for the possible (to dynaton) and reveals a general focus on the time element, and on a space. When he explicitly discusses painting, he wishes it not abstract, but prefigurative. 1939, travelling through Canada, he speaks in his diaries of a bioplastic law of multiformal and omnilateral dynamics, by which a specific combination or modality of the substance takes shape at the expense of others. Then we also have the more general but very emphatic reactions to these ideas, such as the statements by American artists in the first and only issue of the magazine Possibilities, published by Motherwell and Harold Rosenberg as a successor to DYN, and the text „Form and Sense“ published in the winter of 47/48 in New York. In the foreword the editors assert the “greatest trust in pure possibility” and point out the necessity to radically widen the concept of art in times of political reaction. To Willem de Kooning, the concept of the possible implies “a wonderful uncertain atmosphere,” and Rothko writes in his text „The Romantics were Prompted“ that: “In the work of art which has inspired him, the artist has caught a glimpse of not yet realized possibilities.”
Paalen agressively disseminated his concept of possibility space throughout the forties, and he tried to justify it, to theoretically hedge it, with quantum theory, with the concept of totemism, gestalt-theory, with his criticisms of dialectical materialism and western dualistic concepts, with his analysis of cave painting and so on, but to him this concept was very familiar—it was rooted in his cultural disposition, his identity and his emotional character, which was always more in love with the beginning of a process than the completion or perfection of it. When, in his sibylline letters of the time, he writes that he dreams of a generation of painters with the imaginative scope of the Elizabethan poets, that he wants to put painting “in a new affective climate,” that “magnificent horizons unfold” and that he sees “for the first time, how scientific discovery can coordinate with emotional certainty, whithout getting lost in the blind alley of metaphysics” and so on, this marks the programmatic emergence of an idea of openness which I feel is still valid. We could start to describe it as the unfolding of an intimate conversation, or as any situation where the empirical is left behind and speculation opens a new path which brings one into an inspired state of consciousness. The self becomes an actor in a play which hasn´t yet been written.
Linsley) Your last comment is most interesting. It implies that the “possibility space” is a function of a relationship between individuals, one in which the boundaries between them break, or move, or warp. Boundaries between individuals and within individuals. Is the new space a turbulence or distortion within the medium of intersubjectivity, whatever that might be. Can we think about the space between people as a plastic substance somehow formed of sensuous and emotional experiences?
Neufert) In a short text to the 1949 exhibition Intrasubjectives at the Samuel Kootz gallery in New York, Harold Rosenberg wrote about the group that would later become the abstract expressionist painters that they had been inspired “by something they themselves have not yet seen.“ So, in the formative years of abstract expressionism there is discussion about an intersubjective space that is apparently full of presentiments of the future. The artwork becomes a means to force the onlooker into a different realm. It is as if it drives her or him into a fog where habitual identifications are lost, and where subconscious fears activate an alert condition of consciousness, probably the most creative we can have. Some neurologists think that the immediate moments before death can be the most creative ones because the hypothetical consciousness is under stress; it finds itself in front of an unforerseen wall, with no possibilities anymore. So the space in which poetry is takes place seems to be one in which habitual perspectives are limited if not totally blocked.
Linsley) The intra and the inter subjective spaces seem to come together here, and this is definitely an important topic. But I’d like to talk a bit more about poetry. There is something very unfortunate about the desire, central to American art of the last fifty years, to purge literariness from abstraction. Both poetry and philosophy were clearly important for the abstract expressionists, and I think it is a mistake to just dismiss that as the rotten rags of European culture. The greatest Elizabethan poet, of course, was Shakespeare, and the image of Shakespeare was very important for the Romantic conception of poetry and of art in general. Shakespeare was seen as a channel for nature itself, for an experience greater than any single individual could compass. This concept of the artist comes though very strongly in Pollock’s famous claim that he was „nature.“ But, as I am beginning to learn, more important for the Romantics was the imagination, which they set against nature as a power that could transform the world. As we know well, the intensity of the belief in the efficacy of imagination is in direct proportion as the surrounding social world is resistant to desire. Periods of social reaction are periods in which ever greater transformative power is assigned to the imagination. The relevance to Paalen’s historical moment is obvious, but for us two things are clear—that all periods are periods of reaction, that defeat is the permanent condition of the left, and that claims for the imagination have been abosrbed by capitalism today. Remember that yesterday we saw a poster for the University graphics department that called for the transformation of reality. If “possibility” can be made functional for art today, without descending into mere use value, we are going to have to dig deeper into the Romantics, and possibly into science.
Neufert) But the functionalization of possibility is already the point where poetry leaves the sinking ship. Possibility space is deeply personal; it can be trained, yes, but never functionalized. You can start to write a love letter, like Paalen did in 1922, by saying: “if you would love me, I would write you a different letter. I would write you like this….”; this is already a possibility space at its simplest, to realize that true communication between individuals is to unfold hypothetical visions about the world. The difference between capitalist and communist society, even in Paalen’s own context, doesn’t work here anymore, as the possibility space is not anti-capitalist, it is anti-totalitarian, and has a revolutionary potential in the face of the total-realism of our times, as it was certainly also a reaction to the totalitarian realism of the forties. Realism—as philosophical concept—is as naïve as it is dangerous, because it ignores all world-making spaces, which are by nature implicit and not visible or visualizable by everyone. The snare of total realism is always pulled more tightly around us, especially around our eyes, as there is always the jealousy of the insistent realist eye. We live visually in a world of accomplished facts; we discover a desire always after we are offered the object, already perfectly designed for its satisfaction. This is something that Jeff Koons is thinking about, through his shiny dolls with their perfect surfaces. Their alarming obsessiveness registers the fear that there might be a world beneath the norm which escapes from the defined. As we live in this world of explicit realism, a world of immediately realized objects and images available for our use, the space for the world-making processes, the arts, also has to be a realized object. It holds the promise of a world in statu nasciendi, yes, but the fact that we buy and consume it as an accomplished object is stronger than this promise. No one wants to let themselves in for dissolving enigmas anymore, or to take the unknown as the starting point for a personalized dialogue, and this leads to a growing ignorance of the self. Even the artist often seems to look around the artworld to see if there is any possibility left before he or she starts to work, and this of course leaves the already realized in control. Successful careers strengthen social roles and weaken those parts of the personality that shelter the greatest uncertainty and fear, which is in fact the poetical space. This is why Rothko rebelled when he heard that his paintings for the Seagram building would not only hang in a restaurant but also too high to permit any visual experience. He didn’t conceive of them as artworks or paintings, but as bodies of resonance for a possible experience. Rothko was deeply offended because he wanted his art to be a vehicle to bring us back to a unity of our rational and poetical impulses, which in the possibility space are still the same. Art, however, has always had the destiny to be the stepsister of capitalist object-functionalism and fetishism. But the impulse to exploit the potentialities of the world originates in contingency and possibility, let’s say in chance and openness to the unexpected, and this is also the source of the arts. That’s why Marx tried to close both chapters totally, and even the surrealists fell into this trap.
To clear up the roots of an open, precarious, dynamic identity, which today we might call post-modern, Paalen couldn’t be a better example. Gustav Robert Paalen, Wolfgang’s father, was a business man and inventor of Jewish background, born in Bohemia, who came to Vienna in 1900, converted to Protestantism, and changed his name from Pollak to Paalen. He became very rich through a whole series of deals in fields which couldn´t have been more diverse: he started with small commerce, with ice machines, electric parquet brushes, glove-cleaning machines, portable kerosene heaters, air-circulation-heating devices, and then moved into pioneering inventions, developing or launching things such as the first boilers, the first vacuum cleaner usable in a private home, the first re-usable Thermos-bottle and the first dimmable neon-signs with their somehow magical rhythms. So the fabulous wealth of the Paalens was due to a burning but very practical interest in the modern transformation of human existence through science and technology. Money could be made both before and after the first world war, but his activities also always had to do with tempering, vacuum, transparence and illumination, all extremely interesting artistic themes. It is strange but significant that each time his name appears on an official document he gives a different profession. In Vienna, due to his success with the Thermosbottle, Gustav Paalen was called Thermopaalen. This was perhaps an adequate identification, and his various professions just secondary attributes. Thermopaalen was derived from the Greek word therm for hot, appropriate in light of his obsession with all „hot“ new things, and with the fact that he was married to an actress and loved theatre and to play with his own appearance like an actor. This passionate modernism coincided with the outer appearance of a monarchist, baroque, aristocratic and totally anachronistic patriarch, who in his castle in Silesia tried to maintain for his children the world of 18th century ideals, of the epoch of genius, in which Goethe, Schiller and Mendelsohn provided the models of how to live well and up to one’s mental possibilities.
Wolfgang Paalen turns out to be a man from Mitteleuropa, from this dispersed and somehow occult Kakania, a man with an extremely meaningful but now lost home; with an eccentric pedigree consisting of Jewish parvenu nobility, Viennese and Berliner bohemia, German romanticism and an habitual scientific turn of thought, which he learned from his father who was really a kind of artist of business, invention and development. That this son of a capitalist family in the purest sense later became a roaming, migrating evangelist of his own ideas may be partly because of this lost world, wiped out and scattered around by the atrocities of the mid-century. There is a special type of artist that comes out of this situation. Adorno described him in his writings on the composer Alban Berg as „endowed with overflowing warmness of sense“, but „not totally present as an empirical person, not entirely involved; (..)He was not at one with himself in the way the existentialists extol an ideal…“ Not at one with himself—this is probably the state of mind we are after. Paalen later would say „I’m painter above all“ (precisely at the moment when he had his coming out as editor) and this has something of the proclamation of someone without real identification, someone with qualities which he does not own, does not dominate, which don´t take real shape in the world, a shape which could lead to an ordered life through this identification, as a profession perhaps should do. He is not the master in his own self, therefore he needs a mistress, a blind mirror, which doesn´t reflect his own shape but only his potentials, and this can only be art.
If a man however accepts his non-identity as a power, as a capacity to create, then he eventually comes close to what Robert Musil meant when he called the protagonist of his novel a man without qualities. When we accept qualities only as attributes that can never belong to entities which can form and hold a persisting identity, then we can say that personalities like Paalen, and the similar Ulrich from Musil´s novel, live closer to the truth than anyone who believes that his identity is a safe harbour. So everyone who accepts this non-identity is a man without qualities, not because the way he lives and expresses himself has no qualities, but because somehow these qualities don´t lead to a manifest, continuous form (like one profession, one strong identification). Instead they seem only to exist if someone else depicts them, reflects them, invokes them. And there are thousands of qualities, which lie there in an infinite space, waiting to be invoked, to be reflected, to be depicted.
Linsley) I think you’ve dealt with the politics very well. In the world as it is, all possibilities are defined in advance, so the contemporary rhetoric of possibility doesn’t even touch what art can be. But I’d like to come back to your notion of “possibility space” as a between, an interspace, therefore a social space, and ask if it is transposable to painting in the sense that it exists between the work and the viewer? And another interesting question that arises is how does an individual and an artwork come together to make one moving system when both terms are divided within themselves to begin with? Isn’t there an utter non-identity of work and viewer, even of work and artist to begin with, just as there is a non-identity of all the qualities that make up the artistic personality? It also sounds as if possibility is rather passive as compared to the Romantic concept of imagination, however much It may ultimately be grounded in the „negative capacity“ of Keats.
Neufert) Obviously it is always the case that viewer and work interact, as in both modern literature and theatre. But the interaction can only be effective if the author or artist works implicitly. Dostojewski can provide a good example. When you read the Brothers Karamazov your own life is under examination by the continual questioning the characters undertake between themselves. You don’t question the author’s identity, but you cannot do otherwise than question yourself because you participate in the incompleteness of all the characters, which is your incompleteness in the end. Paalen, who gave great emphasis to textual implicitness in painting, makes it equally impossible to take the comfortable standpoint of the onlooker who tries to decipher the desires of the author or of the characters, without questioning himself, as a psychoanalyst would do with a patient.
We have to understand that surrealist imagery was primarily nourished by research into the mystery of sexual desire, and everyone developed his personal, sometimes very strange metaphysics of this material, of which painting had to give testimony. But this psycho-analytical space was limited by a severe and sometimes dogmatic determinism. Breton, obsessed by Hegelian dialectics, wanted to synthesize desire with the determinism of a material outer world. He thought that every dominant desire paves its way through the subconscious world until it meets an outer object by objective chance, as he called it. Breton’s Surrealist theory is an attempt to bring Romanticism together with dialectical materialism. After the Hitler-Stalin pact this caused an open argument between Paalen and Breton. Paalen wanted to clear up what he thought were the errors in Breton’s theory, and he did so in his Enquiry on dialectical materialism and The dialectical Gospel, both published in DYN in 1942. And one relevant point for painting was eventually that the (marxist) idea that the end justifies the means was turned into the idea that the means contain already the end. A beautiful idea, when we see painting as a way to show the unitiy means, subject and onlooker. Unfortunately this whole debate went decidedly too far for most of the surrealists. Breton was offended and held to the Marxist position that all possibilities tend to realize themselves, and so in the end will be nothing more than countable aspects of nature. Breton answered Paalen indirectly in the first Number of VVV: “We reject the lie of an open surrealism, in which anything is possible.” This is not Aristotle, this is Marx.
In those times of political frustration, for the Americans the theory of the possibility space became a sort of vade mecum into the promised land. Of this book length novel, maybe only the chapter on desire as a means of inspiration is interesting here. We know that classical surrealism led primarily to an analysis of the author, and the direct lines which Breton wanted to spin between desire and the objective world were the red threads that led deep into the subconscious motives. Today we know much better that the acts of life stand alone in themselves and do not have single causes, just as a single desire cannot serve as a cause for an artwork as a whole. An object or image which is able to give resonance to the hypothetical and polyvalent structure of desire obviously can lead to a much deeper and longer excitement, because the impulses go back and forth. They not only dig into the object, but into the subject.
What does that mean for painting in the concrete? Turning to the example of the forties, the surrealist preoccupation with the female as the major projection field of male sexual desires is not only still on top of the themes, it is also the vehicle to come to a new ide of space and abstract semantics. In the text that I alluded to above, Rothko speaks of forms as actors in a potential scene, and this came to my mind this year when I saw his great painting of 1944, Tiresias, at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel. Between 1942 and 44 a lot of semi-abstract, half monstrous, half seductive „potential“ women in men or hypothetical men in women appear in the paintings of the young Americans. Pollock’s She-Wolf is only one example. My suspicion has always been that these painters wanted to get into a very deep, profound, but at the same time hypothetical, possible relation with their hidden female aspect, seen maybe as productive energies, disturbing powers or simply as the treasures of a multi-sided identity which had to be sacrificed to enable one to become an integrated, functioning modern person. What happened to the other destinies, projects and potencies? Does a glimpse of them lead to a more illuminated, more complete understanding of one’s own life? Tiresias, the blind seer, was a character in the Sophoclean tragedy of Oedipus. He was a woman for seven years, and later he told Zeus that women had ten times more joy in love than men, for which Zeus blinded him but also gave him the gift of clairvoyance. So Tiresias could be seen as a deep metaphor for an art which depicted the possibility space within one individual, including the yearning toward the lost other within.
Linsley) Firstly, I think that Breton’s efforts to link desire to material reality are not negligible, and perhaps Paalen could be accused of idealism. But still, I think there are productive moments here that we have not yet explored. Like the space of quantum physics, in which there is no pure vacuum, in which particles of light pop out of empty space, so „possibility“ is all pervasive, just waiting to emerge. You seem to be building a pretty strong link between desire and possibility; they are perhaps identical. Presentiments arise just before the fulfillment of desire; I find this very interesting because it moves us closer to the origins of a work of art. The beginning is temporally a very small space. An artist, particularly one who uses automatic processes, works blindly but also critically. He or she makes decisions in the light of what they have already done, and then continue blindly as before, with a trust that the work will exfoliate its own order for them. This kind of back and forth between action and reflection might relate to the movement from presentiment to fulfillment to new desire. It is also interesting that a „possibility space“ has no dimensions. We need to ground this to the emergence of the characteristically American shallow pictorial space.
Neufert) No, the idea that something is waiting out there is already deterministic and dimensional thinking. Paalen used the word implicit, which is maybe better, as it is nearer to a sort of information which is only perceivable as information when it is received. We can go so far as to say that the presentiment is already an explicit part of the evolution of a possibility, and it is here that objective possibility and the human level start to interact. I think the state of presentiment is crucial to the concept of space that we are trying to define. Rothko may have worked his whole life on this idea, of how to use pure colour and form to put the viewer in a state of presentiment.
In 1937 Matta joined Breton as his youngest recruit and, right from the start, seemed to compete with Paalen, who had played the part of the favoured and most promising Benjamin before Matta’s arrival. Breton must have been very disappointed when Matta, after the First Papers of Surrealism show in the autumn of 1942, increasingly turned to the young Americans, as did Paalen. A schism between Matta and Paalen concerning the concept of space deepened at this point, partly through its reception in America. The third issue of Paalen’s Dyn had already been published by this time, and it encouraged the busy and agile Matta to make plans for an art magazine of his own. While these plans came to nothing, Matta did hold a workshop lasting several weeks in which he tried to teach Pollock, Lee Krasner, Motherwell and Baziotes his views on automatism. However, the American artists had all made their own trials of such techniques and they were not ready to become acolytes of Matta.
The space of Matta’s pictures remains completely faithful to the peepbox principle of the surrealist image world. So we have multi-perspectival views and manifold overlapping of painted layers as an intriguing new language, but the picture suggests still a measurable depth that draws the gaze into the same empty box that de Chirico, Tanguy and Max Ernst had filled with material objects. Matta claimed that his work was derived from the discussion of non-Euclidian space. It referred beyond the three dimensions of human perception to a cosmic space that, according to Einstein’s theory of cosmic curvature, must be limitless but at the same time finite; it is possible to move and expand inside it in all directions and without boundaries, but, as on the spherical surface of the earth, no matter how far one travels one inevitably arrives back at the point of origin. Matta is intrigued by the idea of a boundless cosmic space with finite substance. He wants to discover describable forms of a different „surreal“ world, „in which everything is interchangeable and spirits disembodied float free of time.“
Paalen’s work is quite different, and he also draws very different conclusions from the new physics. In his fumage paintings the light of the background pushes the forms up toward the picture plane, where they tend to fold and twist around each other laterally across the surface. His attention moves away from Einstein, as he doesn´t see in relativity any possibiltiy for a joining of cosmic space and human space. Instead he follows the quantum physicists Ernst Schrödinger and Louis de Broglie as they report of strange microphysical experiments where they as scientists can no longer speak of observation but rather of participation. If the result of an experiment depends on how you look at it, it seems that the scientist must also behave at each moment in the process of observation like a fumage-painter, as though he has not yet seen anything. From this point it is only a small step to turn the viewer into the medium of the mysterious, instead of disregarding him or her and just telling painted stories about the mysterious transformation of metaphysical objects that remain inaccessible to human perception in any case. Paalen writes in a letter of 1944 that „I personally like Matta a great deal and find his last drawings excellent. But he is still cleaved to a point of dualism, in which the human and the cosmic have not reached any equation. His figures are satyr-like-analytical and his „space“ too abstract.“ He was right. Matta remained mainly interested in the morphological appearance of metaphysical objects and their metamorphosis in the fourth dimension, which had little to do with the emotional explorations that the Americans were interested in.
Linsley) It sounds like you are trying to bring together the up-to-the-surface and lateral spread of American painting, as it has been well and frequently described, with a kind of discontinuous space perhaps characteristic of the densest parts of cubist pictures. When I say discontinuous I perhaps mean relativistic, in that the direction of each plane is produced by that of the adjoining plane, so that there cannot be an empty Newtonian box with abstract and universal coordinates. Further, it seems that the viewer has a task to construct, rather than passively observe the movement of the spaces one into the other.
Neufert) Not quite. Paalen took up Apollinaire’s idea of the space-time-continuum in cubism exactly at a moment when everybody was looking for a new reason to pick up cubism where Picasso and Braque had left it. And his reason was exactly the unity of space and time. It takes time to look at a cubist multiperspectival space, and this time becomes an essential part of the painting itself. Paalen sees cubism as the place to learn how onlooker and painting can be linked energetically and cognitively by time and space, which in the human mind always work together, and that it can work as the starting point of a voyage to future projections. He says that „…the pure cubist constellations will shine always for those who leave for an expanse, whose maps are still to be made, whose depths are still to be sounded: the new space.“ Paalen’s own history as a painter shows that he never wanted to adapt cubism as a style; he always wanted to use its principal ideas for something new, and in his case this meant flatness, multiple perspectives and a time-element brought in by the onlooker’s active eye. And why shouldn’t we see Pollock as linked to cubism in exactly the same way; the dripped lines force the onlooker to almost physically mimic the movement in time that the eye would have while looking at a cubist painting. And so the onlooker’s own means of perception become part of the language of the painter. The subject of the painting is the process of looking and participating. Remember that the main discussion in the forties was about how to get rid of the subject in painting without becoming abstract in the old sense. Picasso and Braque couldn’t do this during their period of most intense collaboration, when they almost gave up the signature entirely, because they wanted to produce an anonymous, collective subject. Pollock achieved this important goal by substituting the onlooker for the subject within the work. The viewer gets a double in the painting, the anonymous personality, who stares at himself and asks What do you represent?
Linsley) But for the mainstream of American criticism today this would be precisely where Paalen recedes into an interesting but no longer relevant history. Newman, Rothko and Still supposedly showed the way toward a definitive overcoming of cubism. Newman and Rothko in particular may point toward a new relation between viewer and work, but they also point away from discontinuous space toward the unified, singular colour field. Paalen’s innovation seems to be that he interpreted cubist space, in which there is no empty box, and all the planes move only in relation to each other and not in relation to pre-established co-ordinates, as producing a similar relation between viewer and work. He also seems to take cubist space as analogous to social relations that work to build a new world, in the end a very political position and not far from that of the Russian constructivists, who also understood cubism in this way. I think that the task here is to get constructed cubist space out of the canvas and into the space of our own bodies, and paradoxically the colour field and Newman’s relational composition may help.
Neufert) Yes, maybe Newman was the most radical experience-painter of that period in this sense. I don’t know, if you ever kept standing for a longer while in front of one of the Who’s afraid of...paintings in exactly the distance, Newman wanted. You loose the sense of gravity. The middle part of the coloured surface starts to move vertically along the side lines of colour, it’s hilarious. Your whole body get’s right into the hallucination. You can really feel the Kantian notion, which lies in wait behind this epoch, you can feel it there, right on your skin. Reality might be nothing than a phenomenon, but there you feel everything what you habitually see, as a mere quantitative phenomenon. As something mecanical, a coherence of dates, each camera can achieve. And this feeling can bring you next to something like an awarness of what we’re doing with our mind to the world. We’re carrying our mind into the world producing bad copies of it, which we use as tools for satisfaction. The web is a dream machine, like the one, Wenders portrayed in his Until the end of the world. Imagine you can see a realist image of your own subconcious! You immediately get addicted to it. This is, fortunately, still a bad dream of cognitive scientists, but the web is a start. It disposes pretty much of the rude essentials of imagination, I mean the mechanics of it. Newman builts a wall to block this obsession with the mimetical mind. And he does it in the most radical way you probably can do with painting. This intervention was probably an equivalent to the breakdown of traditional physics by way of the quantum ideas. Later it became an attitude, a style, a surface and maybe boaring. But in the beginning there was this heroic attitude, which all great poets might have had, you mentioned Shakespeare, I mentioned Sophocles, this Hey, listen, I am blind, but I see what you will do or become, that Thereseias throws into the face of Oedipus. He forces you into emotion, into the affective climate, which bears poetry as a resonance for hope, the presentiment of a love, ready to come, or an agression, ready to kill. In poetry this, of course, is more subtle. It comes with open eyes, with all the facts of the empirical world. Take Walter Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West: She sang beyond the genius of the sea. / The water never formed to mind or voice, / Like a body wholly body, fluttering / Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic notion / Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry, / That was not ours although we understood, / Inhuman, of the veritable ocean. Suddenly everything is illuminated, everything sings, the ocean, the sky, the woman, the spirits, the air, and even after the woman stopped, her voice still Mastered the night and portioned out the sea, / Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles, / Arranging, deepening, enchanting night. And when this experience is, although written in the thirties, closer to our idea of autopoesis, then we should ask ourselves, how to get with painting again into the subtleness of poetic awarness. Your painting, I think, is an attempt to bring together the radical goals of late modernist abstraction together with a somehow minimalist poetry, close to the literary.
negative capability: when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.