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Lucas Blalock: Imperfect Grace

Lucas Blalock: Imperfect Grace

Reality is always a partially cloaked thing: the some of sociopolitical structures and strictures, the warp and weft of interpersonal dynamics, and so on. It is created largely through instances of alchemy that evade the realm of the visual, in which photography traffics. Attempts to touch something of the real through photography, to extend the medium beyond its doglike loyalty to the indexical, can nevertheless be made; this is where art comes in.

In the face of the failures of representation, as Bertolt Brecht once claimed, “what we actually need is to ‘construct something,’ something ‘artificial,’ ‘posed.’ “We need, in other words, to create a form of what might be termed “constructed representation” – aligned with Brecht’s theatrical techniques of alienation, which call attention to the workings of the theatrical apparatus in order to provide the audience a space for intellectual analysis of the events onstage. This constructed representation exists in opposition to the smooth, consumable forms of representation associated with the spectacle. It is rough; it produces friction.

Consider, in this context, Lucas Blalock’s use of Photoshop. He’s horrible at it. Or so he’d have you believe: you can follow all his technical steps; they are ham-fisted. But these bald-faced moves stand in direct contradiction to the standard, seamless operations of digital legerdemain that are designed to fade into the background of the collective dream worlds fashioned for us by advertising executives and other promoters of the spurious and the seductive. The mechanisms of the digital are here laid bare, allowing us to see them for what they are: cheap tricks. But to shine light on this reality, which can be seen as a kind of critique, is not to identify what’s at the bottom of the well.

Blalock’s photographs are awkward. They trip themselves up, cross their own wires, scramble their own energies. They are not “well done.” But of course most things aren’t. We live amid a profusion of the jury-rigged and the half-baked, those thoughts and objects that are at best nice tries, tries, but never successes. Like most things pathetic, however, there is also a sweetness about Blalock’s pictures, a certain imperfect grace that exists at cross-purposes with their atmosphere of failure. They recall the writer Donald Barthelem’s memorable remark on accuracy in his fiction. “The confusing signals, the impurity of the signal,” he observed, “gives you verisimilitude. As when you attend a funeral and notice, against your will, that it’s being poorly done.” Above and beyond critique, Blalock’s photographs carve out an idiosyncratic form of photographic realism, on the that moves beyond the merely depictive and into a more direct realm of representation: the embodied.

Chris Wiley in Aperture, Issue 208, Fall 2012

More shadow books


Atomic light (shadow optics) / Akira Mizuta Lippit.

Dreams, x-rays, atomic radiation, and “invisible men” are phenomena that are visual in nature but unseen. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) reveals these hidden interiors of cultural life, the “avisual” as it has emerged in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Jacques Derrida, Tanizaki Jun’ichirô and Sigmund Freud, and H. G. Wells and Ralph Ellison, and in the early cinema and the postwar Japanese films of Kobayashi Masaki, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, all under the shadow cast by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Akira Mizuta Lippit focuses on historical moments in which such modes of avisuality came into being–the arrival of cinema, which brought imagination to life; psychoanalysis, which exposed the psyche; the discovery of x-rays, which disclosed the inside of the body; and the “catastrophic light” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which instituted an era of atomic discourses. With a taut, poetic style, Lippit produces speculative readings of secret and shadow archives and visual structures or phenomenologies of the inside, charting the materiality of what both can and cannot be seen in the radioactive light of the twentieth century. Akira Mizuta Lippit is professor of cinema, comparative literature, and Japanese culture at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minnesota, 2000)

In praise of shadows / Jun’ichirō Tanizaki; translated by Thomas J.Harper and Edward G.Seidensticker


An essay on aesthetics by the Japanese novelist, this book explores architecture, jade, food, and even toilets, combining an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. The book also includes descriptions of laquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure

Choreographic Objects: William Forsythe 

Choreographic Objects: William Forsythe : Mousse Magazine

William Forsythe and Emilio Montevideo in Conversation.

The American dancer and choreographer William Forsythe on his first exhibition at Gagosian Le Bourget, Paris: robots and choreography and the “optical human puzzle” provided by the formal potential of human bodies interacting.

Emilio Montevideo: Would you kindly introduce our readers to the exhibition Choreographic Objects at Gagosian Le Bourget, France?

William Forsythe: Parallel to my choreographic career, I have since the late 1980s been making and exhibiting in museums and other institutional spaces my Choreographic Objects—installations, film works, discrete interactive sculptures, instructions. However diverse the scale and nature of these projects, they all strive to give the viewer an unadorned sense of their own physical self-image and to return the analysis of kinetic phenomena that was previously the exclusive purview of professionals to a platform that speaks clearly to nonspecialists. Most of the Choreographic Objects serve as surrogates for real-life interactions with the human environment: stepping off the curb, running to catch a bus, avoiding a swinging door, and so on. The objects simply isolate coordinational transactions that abound in one’s normal everyday environment: not tipping a chair; not stubbing your toe. What I often attempt to do is to isolate phenomena that are so fully integrated into our unconscious physical selves they are invisible to us.It seems significant that Gagosian is presenting my work at a time when the art world is embracing choreography in all its forms. At Gagosian Le Bourget we’re showing three works, each of which demonstrates a different principle of the Choreographic Objects, from pure observatory spectacle to focused direct interaction. The gallery, with its upper-level passerelle on all sides, provides an ideal architectural context for one of my favorite Choreographic Objects to date: Black Flags (2015), a twenty-eight-minute duet for two standard industrial robots. In total contrast to this huge spectacle is the small-scale interactive work Towards the Diagnostic Gaze. The film Alignigung 2 is the latest in a series of video works that I have created in collaboration with some of the world’s greatest dancers.

EM: It’s very impressive how you unleash in Black Flags a very linear, sophisticated mode, calling upon the choreographic capabilities of industrial machines and fabric. What interests you in this process?

WF: I am fascinated by demonstrations where flags or banners are used to express social or political unification or solidarity—civic ceremonies, sports, political rallies. In those contexts the flags are powered by humans, which is often very challenging. It’s obvious that whoever wields them is dedicating his or her entire body to the task in a very specific way. I was fascinated by this and sought to employ the idea differently. The initial impulse of Black Flags was calligraphic, inspired in part by my choreography As a Garden in This Setting (1992), in which a performer maneuvers a length of ribbon attached to a fly-fishing pole in order to perform a 3D calligraphic choreography onstage. I thought that I could simply use a motion-capture of his demonstration and map it onto a program for the robots. But I discovered that it didn’t translate; it was way too complex. The robots, which are standard industrial models, possess an extraordinary strength and elegance, with six rotating joints, meaning six degrees of freedom, which offers a planar complexity that, for my practical purposes, is inexhaustible. The base weighs eight tons to counter the kinetic forces. Extending their reach from five meters to thirteen meters with flag-weighted poles introduces a significant accumulation of complex shear forces. In Black Flags the robots wield the huge banners, which, as they furl and unfurl, make visible the air that constitutes the third compositional element. Sometimes the banners work in parallel, synchronic actions. At others they separate and digress, or come to complete stasis—a state that that is utterly impossible for a human being to effect. The sweeping, fluttering flags translate the digital algorithm controlling the robots into dramatic contrapuntal movement sequences which, although minutely programmed according to complex calculations and exceedingly strenuous, appear at once effortless, autonomous, and unpredictable. Although this work irresistibly prompts reflection on the post-human and postindustrial condition, my choreography of the robots is not at the service of direct theatrical or emotive affect. Rather, I am seeking to engage with wholly abstract values, modeling complex surfaces into monumental yet ethereal volumes. Black Flags combines the presence of monumental abstract sculpture with performative dynamics.

EM: In a certain way also Alignigung 2 uses two performers as a form of basic material to create a sculptural work, dictated by the assemblative possibilities of bodies. What is the concept behind this piece?

WF: Alignigung 2 is one of an ongoing series of video installations distilled from live performances that I call “entanglements,” which I have choreographed with some of the most renowned dancers of our time. In these optical human puzzles, time and space are collapsed into the density of bodily interaction. While it is obvious to the viewer that there are two different bodies in the composition, the complex “threading” of these bodies into their own negative spaces creates optical conundrums that frequently defy the apparent visual logic of the situation. In this particular piece, Rauf “RubberLegz” Yasit, a break-dancer possessed of supernatural flexibility, and Riley Watts, a former dancer with the Forsythe Company, grasp each other in a succession of configurations so complex that it is difficult to determine where one body ends and the other begins. Although these works recall the figures of Baroque sculpture, it is important to consider that their material is exclusively the human body and its formal potential. The title itself is also a wordplay that threads two languages together. The English word “align” sounds like the German word allein (alone). That English word has been inserted into the German word Einigung (agreement). So the “threaded” result is a paradox—to align with oneself and another, while alone.

EM: Towards the Diagnostic Gaze expresses itself as a form of involuntary human micro-choreography. How did you come up with a duster as a means (or, technically, a tool) to make this possible?

WF: Like the robot, the feather duster is an everyday tool, ubiquitous and readily available. Placing it on a stone shelf inscribed with the instruction “Hold the object absolutely still,” it becomes the focus of human will as the viewer grasps hold of it and attempts to quiet the nervous energies of its plumes—which is impossible, of course. The feather duster registers the human body’s every tremor and pulse. Many of the Choreographic Objects have to do with acknowledging mortality. Our bodies are precisely not machines; they are fragile, subject to ebbs and flows. The world does not come at us in evenly measured portions but in a contrapuntal cloud. Our predictive faculty exists for our own self-preservation, and through evolution we became capable of recognizing precariousness and deriving as much information from it as possible so that our relationship with the world developed heuristically. So, in a certain sense, the Choreographic Objectsprovide us with cues for our future levels of self-knowledge—what we need to recognize. For example, if you are shaking way too much with the feather duster of Towards the Diagnostic Gaze, you need to consider whether you, specifically, might need clinical help or whether it is, generally, reflective of the human condition. The Choreographic Objects are diagnostic equations that ask: How are we in the world as bodies? It’s evident that we’re not robots.

Notes on materials and processes

Finnish plywood manufacturers seen at Lusto museum in Savonlinna

Koskisen makes very fine birch ply and veneers including a very flexible 2 ply.  Can be laser cut and bent to shape.  Pale surface could be coloured.

Matt papers for inkjet printing – rice paper


Thin translucent fabrics for inkjet printing