Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Archive, An Essay

This is a short essay that I wrote for the An Archive, A Forest catalog:
"It is the animal with the big tail, a tail many yards long and like a fox’s brush. How I should like to get my hand on this tail some time, but it is impossible, the animal is constantly moving about, the tail is constantly being flung this way and that... Sometimes I have the feeling that the animal is trying to tame me. What other purpose could it have in withdrawing its tail when I snatch at it, and then again, waiting calmly until I am tempted again, and then leaping away once more?"
- Franz Kafka
The natural history museum is a place to go to put the right name onto an animal; to visualize not only an animal in body but also what it does, how it goes about its business and what its life means. Even taking the most deviant instances into account, a naturalist illustration, whether it is on a page or displayed in a case, is intended to function as a map, a fully-realized picture of what that creature is for the viewer, something which is often otherwise only remotely possible. But this amazing access comes with a price. The creature is necessarily neutered and placed under arrest, not maliciously, but because that specimen must be tacked up, literally or metaphorically, for the sake of observation and measurement.

I think of myself as a figurative artist who strives to depict animals as verbs rather than as nouns. Freed from the rules and limitations of the empirical, as an artist I can avail myself of the luxury of dismissing the named subject, the noun-subject, as a classification with limitations. The real exciting part for me is not in discovering what something is but in discovering that it is and can do so many different things. I want my pictures to operate in the realm of potential—in imagining and bringing to life the heterogeneous and near-limitless variety of form that life can take on to particularize itself and still survive.

This is a type of visual and conceptual navel-gazing in the sense that this process is not terribly efficient. If you put equal weight on every derivation and potential difference from the norm, then you can never generalize and use that norm in a larger and more complicated context. We need periods on the ends of our sentences. But all in moderation! Variation and creative elaboration is a necessary aspect of the scientific process. I want my artwork to serve as a small reminder that life is not rational—life constantly reinvents itself; life bubbles over any container that we put around it.

I have a real website!

Butterfly dance

Some gorgeous illustrations via BibliOdyssey.

snow owl