Saturday, November 9, 2002

Pre-Columbian stonework, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Calder and the perseverance of the voluptuous

Adam got me started with one of my favourite sculptures, Noguchi's Slide Mantra ("Feel it with your hips") and I'll add In Silence Walking.

After Noguchi returned from the Andes, he made Cloud Mountain and Rain Mountain, which deeply resonate with my experience of the highlands. Shapes are difficult there.

Hyslop suggests that the “symbolism of rocks and stone outcrops in Inka culture was so complex that one cannot simply refer to a ‘cult of stone’ or the ‘sacredness of rock’ and expect to explain why such stone is important." In Inka architecture, which Paternosto refers to as "sculpture in-the-round," there is a quality of stoniness. "This stoniness responds to deeper causes: stone appears to represent itself, its own essence, because it was, beyond all other things, a transcendent material, significant in and of itself, heavy with symbolic potential. A Western artist uses sterile, neutral materials, but among the Incas, the sculptural medium itself was numinous. From time immemorial stone has been contemplated as the intrinsic structure, the very foundation of the universe, and has had a multiplicity of referents and meanings in different cultures."

Noguchi claimed that he worked with wood, stone and clay because "the energy of nature is built into these materials." And Moore's Reclining Woman was influenced by one of the Chacmool at Chichén Itzá - he wrote that "Mexican sculpture, as soon as l found it, seemed to me true and right, perhaps because I at once hit on similarities in it with some eleventh-century carvings l had seen as a boy on Yorkshire churches. Its 'stoniness,' by which I mean its truth to material, its tremendous power without loss of sensitiveness, its astonishing variety and fertility of form invention and its approach to a full three-dimensional conception of form, make it unsurpassed in my opinion by any other period of stone sculpture."

The Inka - and contemporary Native Andeans - consider stone itself to be waka, or sacred, and stone takes on an almost "ontological sense of the foundation of being." Paternosto continues to describe that "the fundamental asymmetry of Inca sculpture is the direct result of its adhesion to the primordial form of the chosen rock, the waka - an adhesion that is substantially analogous to the accommodation of topography typical of Inca buildings, which are the true outgrowths of an ‘organic architecture’. The sculptural transformation of rock... involves its incorporation into the cosmos: therefore it takes place in situ, within the numinous natural surroundings... [and] the ‘memory’ of the stone’s original form is never totally erased. It remains rooted, immobile, in a landscape with which it establishes an infinite number of relations."

I don't necessarily see the whole transcendence/universality thing going on, but I am interested in the possibilities of being. Especially when it suggests the shape of stability and movement, as in Noguchi's and Moore's sculptures. Calder's Mercury Fountain sends 150 litres of mercury circulating through the sculpture, and setting it in motion, while simultaneously allowing people to throw coins onto the (relatively stable) surface of the mercury. As with Pre-columbian stone sculpture, and the work of Moore and Noguchi, it becomes difficult to establish boundaries, where things begin and end, or when they stay still and move.

Patricia Lather writes about a "voluptuous validity, [where] the residue… exceeds the categories, [instigating] a disruptive excess." The politics of excess, of leakage, of “going too far” bring “ethics and epistemology together in self-conscious partiality, an embodied positionality and a tentativeness which leaves space for others to enter, for the joining of partial voices." This will create a “constantly moving speaking position that fixes neither subject nor object."

In stark contrast to architectures of control, voluptuousness suggests shape out of control, contingent ordering and meaning. This is a space of possibility and virtuality; of becoming, as much as being. A space of play not unrelated to the voluptuousness of the female form, the body's productive capacities, and its inherent dangers. Historically, women's bodies have been seen to beg for control and containment - a view that coincides with the shape of scientific objectivity. In refusing containment, the female form embodies difficult shapes, peaking and plunging where the male form stays straight. Voluptuousness recalls Moore's descriptions of "tremendous power without loss of sensitiveness" and "fertility of form."

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