THE AURA OF ABSTRACTION: I’m in a Window Mood
An on-line showcase by Lucy Cox
Given the current Covid-19 lock-down gallery visits have been curtailed and so on-line presentations of exhibitions are a welcome substitute for the ‘real thing’. Or rather, a regular alternative as we are so used to viewing artworks on our mobile phones – perhaps even more than on the computer screen – that the ‘virtual’ experience of art during this pandemic constitutes a reinforced normality. But where this increased reliance on the tiny digital screen might prove salutary as we miss out on visiting the galleries is in emphasising the loss of the material reality of the work of art. We might need reminding that the physical impact, embracing surface qualities, visual weights and textures, the correct colour and the actual size of artworks in relation to the viewer is missing from the digital experience. In a curated space (let’s assume in one large room) we could view individual works close up and from afar, or consider one or more works in juxtaposition to others. We might be satisfied with the choice and arrangements of the artworks or critical of the curator’s decisions. Furthermore, we might be impatient and in a hurry, or ideally attuned to a slow contemplation that the best quality works inevitably deserve and demand. Either way, seeing and experiencing an object as curious as a work of art are beyond the capabilities of the digital, but creative and intriguing possibilities are still available to the medium.
It has been a few years since I last read the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, so a re-acquaintance with his works was timely when artist, curator and podcaster Lucy Cox invited me to contribute two images to her blog, ‘The Aura of Abstraction’. Presenting a recent translation of Rilke’s ‘I’m in a Window Mood’ (the original is in French) adds an intriguing dimension to the two-dozen images selected and presented by Cox. As arranged on the web page the poem serves as a thoughtful precursor to the images that follow, although the intention is clearly not to requisition them as illustrations, but perhaps to provide pointers and prompts to consider the works. Most usefully, a spoken recording of the poem is also provided with the text and you can read the poem as you listen, or close your eyes and truly experience the verse in your mind.
The 24 artworks that follow are, simply, to be looked at as no further commentary is added. Taking a prompt from Rilke’s poem, harmony will be perceived to varying degrees in the images, from the carefully arranged colour shape elements in Laurence Noga’s collages or EC’s more painterly conflations, in contrast to Ruth Philo’s or Johanna Melvin’s more pared down compositions.
Elements of a purposeful and positive inconsistency (compatible contrasts) characterise Karl Bielik’s, Lisa Denyer’s and Jeff Dellow’s works. If the image or idea of the window frames a ruminatory and framing perspective, then the shallow spaces of Kuai Lianhui’s and Andrea V. Wright’s works press on the viewer’s eye space to create a tight and compressed sensation. Lucy Cox’s pieces echo the loosely geometric disclosures and ambiguous spaces of Melvin, Noga and Denyer to hint at a future collaboration that would be well in tune with current trends in abstraction. Huang Jun’s two works initially surprised me by their inclusion as they fuse figurative imagery with a painterly and gestural application of paint, but each is very cleverly interspersed with images from Denyer and EC to play off the visual liveliness found in their works. Seeing my own pieces in similar proximity to Dellow and Lianhui appropriately emphasised the interplay inherent in visual language that has been pared down to essentials where much, hopefully, can be implicit in inferred understatement.
A rewarding and worthwhile poem, like its visual counterpart, is always open to translation shifting meaning for a variety of potential readers. During the reading/viewing time we consider parts within the whole as well as the totality of the work. Responding to and ingesting a phrase within the structure might focus solely on a part in a text or an image, but the overall configuration has still to be resolved by the producer and the audience alike. For example, is the ‘bird’ appearing in the middle stanza of Rilke’s poem a thought that unexpectedly appears, asking for or wanting (depending on the translation) attention? Of course, the contemplative poet or reader is not the object of the bird’s attention. The bird is not aware of any observer, just as an incident in a visual image (abstract or figurative) has arrived devoid of relevance until the observer is primed to take something from any given situation when the conditions are right – by design or circumstance. Consequently, the actual and the imaginary meet the abstract, non-verbal conditions of contemplation with the promise of the unexpected integration beyond the self in concrete reality, avoiding the alienation commonplace between notions of ‘self’ and ‘other’. This is what Rilke consummately achieves.
Potentially, I’m in a window mood, whereby the implied frame of the rectangular screen, printed page or artwork becomes a portal that comforts me in these strange and unaccustomed times.
Two slightly different translations of Rilke’s poem are presented here. I have added the italics in the Petermann version to link with my comments above.
I’m in a Window Mood
I’m in a window mood today –
life seems to consist of simply looking.
I’m surprised by all the harmony I see,
intelligence as great as in a book.
Each bird that reaches into my view
with its flight asks for my consent.
And I give it. Inconsistency
used to terrify, now it comforts me.
You might find me in the middle of the night
having spent probably the entire day
surrendering to the inexhaustible window,
trying to be the other half of the world.
Poem: Rilke, R.M. (2017) When I Go: Selected French Poems. Translated from French by S. Petermann. Cascade Books.
Today I’m in a window mood,
to live seems just to look,
astonished by the better taste
of all, the fuller insight of a book.
Every bird that flies within
my reach wants me to consent.
I consent. Such an inconstant
force doesn’t surprise me now, it soothes.
And when night falls, who knows
perhaps I’ll find I’ve spent all day
given to you, inexhaustible window,
to be the other half of the world.
Poem: Rilke, R.M. (2002) The Complete French Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke. Translated from French by A. Poulin. Graywolf Press.
The Aura of Abstraction – https://theauraofabstraction.com/2020/05/06/window-mood/
Painters Today Podcast – https://soundcloud.com/painterstodaypodcast
Karl Bielik – http://www.contemporarybritishpainting.com/karl-bielik/
Lucy Cox – https://www.lucycox.com
Jeff Dellow – https://jeffdellow.com
Lisa Denyer – http://lisa-denyer.squarespace.com
Geoff Hands – https://www.geoffhands.co.uk
Kuai Lianhui – https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/F7hKv35mZlsp4kXJiSIB4A
Johanna Melvin – http://www.johannamelvin-art.com
Laurence Noga – http://laurencenoga.co.uk
Ruth Philo – https://www.ruthphilo.co.uk
Andrea V Wright – https://www.andreavwright.com
Images: © The artists, 2011–2020.