January 31, 2009

Last night, at the party J. took me to, I passed a poster from the Fondation Maeght.

It knocked the wind out of me, as I had successfully forgotten about my beloved poster from their 2006 Manolo Valdés retrospective. It got too banged-up on the trip home to mount; I had to get rid of it. I’d rather have misplaced it; loss is hard enough without the indignity of having to choose it. Now I can’t find any for sale on Ebay; I don’t suppose I’ll ever see one again. The internet is so tantalizing at times like this, providing insultingly easy access to simulacra of unrecoverable originals.

It is good practice, though, for when we have to leave this planet behind: digital arks will come in handy in that approaching golden age of nostalgia. Think how beautiful “Planet Earth” will be in space, how antediluvian Attenborough’s voice will sound.

On the other hand: all sorts of people have explored the tragedy of forgetting; is there any good work or thought on the tragedy of remembering? Though lamentable, a measure of oblivion & erasure is necessary in life~eternal return, like immortality, would be a curse. I sometimes worry about this prosthetic memory we have built for ourselves: we may come to find there is something tyrannical in the inability to forget.


Much of my affection for the Maeght comes from having first seen it during the Valdés show. One of my favorite things about visual arts is finding a motif or totem from my own dreamscape in a stranger’s work. Literature offers delights that are similar, but which differ in the crucial sense that the medium is predicated on a product of culture, shared language; anything in its domain is necessarily a commonplace. Painting, on the other hand, can operate by means of naive (in the sense of non-cultural) code: this is why children and gorillas paint (and sometimes well), but do not write comedies of manners. This is also why it is easier to lie with words than images. For all that our text-biased culture dismisses the visual as “superficial,” it is literature that has the most to do with surfaces, with the masks of personae.

At the center of my private, naive visual language is a daubed face. Not “the painted face,” mind you~makeup, incidentally, holds little interest for me~I mean something ruder and more elegant. Its not precisely paint I’m thinking of, or mud, even… more like spreadable jewels, a paste or poultice of crushed stone: topaz, turquoise, lapis. Like hummingbird gorgets, perhaps.

But that’s not right either, of course~much too regular, too scale-like.

I remember how shocked I was when, during my senior year at D., a friend exhibited a self-portrait that left half her face streaked with turquoise paint. How did you know about that? Of course, she couldn’t account for the choice.

Later, what Godard did to Jean-Paul Belmondo’s face made perfect sense to me. And I watched Julie Taymor’s Titus on the basis of its poster.

But nothing compares to that Valdés show: room after room of those faces, reimagined time and again, and yet somehow always, relentlessly and inexorably, one and the same.


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