The art we commonly call abstract is a message from the non-human. But it’s not so clear exactly what qualifies. A stone on the ground is of the inhuman universe, but conventional criticism claims that the fact that the stone has been bought and sold in a load of gravel means that there is no outside to the human world. An artist should say otherwise, that no matter to what uses the stone is put it remains untouched. It is not sentimental to assert that the human world has limits, and that human beings overvalue themselves and overestimate their power.


Gego, Biche


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10 Responses to Stones

  1. Shep Steiner says:

    I was struck by two things: first how poetic–maybe zen like–your statement is; and second how it manages to capture one of the crucial ideas of Derrida’s Of Grammatology, that the trace is outside the logic of the grammer-the system as such. So inhuman yes but then given the ethical drive that Derrida would later use this set of thoughts for leverage against, I wonder if the philosophizing that follows from your picture must also be a gesture toward the other, not exactly (or perhaps in addition to) the stone or the wire mesh the few stones are caught within, but (also) the act of poiesis on the part of the artist?

  2. linsley says:

    Thanks Shep. I’m not too sure about Derrida, but I had a kind of revelation recently, and it was probably crystallized by Clark’s argument, regarding Pollock, that capitalism colonizes every “outside” position—which is not new, we’ve been hearing that for a long time. As such it’s a bit weak coming from Clark. I think he takes a rather superior stance toward any artist’s attempt to move out of the accepted discourse by invoking the non-human, and the source of this attitude, as I now see it, is a deep, almost unbreakable human tendency to overvalue the human. In other words, what concerns us is always what concerns us. To us the human world is really everything, and nature only exists for us in and as it exists for us, if you can follow me. And that is a kind of blindness.

  3. Shep Steiner says:

    Right, but then I think I feel the presence of an other human world loom up on the far side of the in-human, which is the ethical drive I was talking about. This would be more than a first order blindness which is a simple dialectic–an economy of give and take, and more than a fully dialectical working through of that blindness which yields the inhuman. But exists on the far side of that dead zone, which may be nature then, or more succinctly nature denatured by history. But then we also come up against Derrida’s concern for the animal which should also exist on the other side of that far side, and concern for a universe of other things as well. But with art and literature I get the feeling that the maker and the making is at the crux of the operation. Thus his commitment to teleopoeisis and of course Spivak’s careful reiteration of that cause for establishing a new collectivity.

    • Robert Linsley says:

      Are you saying that you sense that other human world in my ideas? You are right of course about the primacy of making in art, and what I see today is art made out of ideas, and the treatment of art critical and art historical concepts as if they were real, and not just strategies of debate. As if minimalism, for example, or abstract expressionism really existed outside of the newspaper. The “human” is the realm of mass delusion. The classic positivist position is to stress the “thing” as a moment of liberation from mass delusion, otherwise called society. I’m not a positivist, but don’t mind veering in that direction.

  4. Shep Steiner says:

    That would seem to throw a curious monkey wrench in the way of Derrida’s investment in ethics. Im sure he would have an answer, and somehow I guess it would involve or presume the deconstructing of the other and hence the materiality of the one trace touching the others trace. I need to think about it.

    • Robert Linsley says:

      I’m at a disadvantage in that I am not a reader of Derrida. Likely I have a blind spot somewhere in my understanding, I probably treat some aspects of the world too simplistically or non-dialectically. But as an art historian surely you don’t want to find another human world beyond the horizon of Pollock’s “inhuman?” In that direction lies all kinds of psychologism, projection, solipsism etc. We can never get out. The positive fact, drip or stain for example, has to be a positive fact in the end doesn’t it? Does there not have to be a limit to the human world, and is not that limit precisely the domain of art? If there is always a recouping back to some realm of intention or politics are we not caught in a nightmare, a gnostic universe from which there is no escape?

  5. Jan Tumlir says:

    In the slide that you printed, there is a play between the stone as a solid formed thing, and the wire mesh that seems to “represent” form by way of insubstantial contouring. This might bring up the relation of beholding to capture – and I recently learned that the the term retina is etymologically linked to that of web and net – but in an pointedly broken way. That is, the object remains whole (it is after all a rock); perhaps it even dominates. All of this makes me think of that part of Hegel’s aesthetic equation where one alienates oneself in the process of exchange or mediation with the object world. No doubt, there is an “ethical” dimension to this analysis as well. The thing that is not-I, not-human, manifests a certain resistance to the human will that wants to aesthetically appropriate it. Paradoxically, perhaps, this resistance would also be the first sign of an opening in the “nightmarish” edifice of “mass delusion” that you write about.

  6. Robert Linsley says:

    Jan, thanks for the thoughts, as interesting as usual. I think that your direction is absolutely right. The way you are connecting with the aesthetic is something I hadn’t thought about.
    Actually, the image I wanted was of a Bernard Pagès piece from 1968, of a square chain link enclosure stuck into a pile of gravel. It had an obvious political aspect, as well as a strong resemblance to some works of Smithson. And most importantly, the rocks were both in and out of the grid. I couldn’t find it, so settled for the Gego, which is much more lyrical. I think we should look for whatever resists—a rock can stand for something that refuses to integrate—but what I would prefer is an image that shows how nature that will not be and cannot be assimilated is both inside and outside of our “nets.”
    But the use of grids or nets in art might be a bit overdone today. What do you think?

  7. Jan Tumlir says:

    This conversation might relate to your thoughts on the autonomy argument of Ai Wei Wei, which obviously strikes Western ears as “old hat” and at the same time surprising, even novel, just because artists rarely talk this way anymore. Every rock or stone is literally “a chip off the old block” of the earth; they are all essentially same and yet different, and can serve as a social figure in this sense. The way they break off, their size and shape, as well as their surface, either rough or smoothed by weathering, grants each a measure of uniqueness. That sense of standing apart is especially strong in Gego’s slick, rounded river rocks: every fractured edge that might connect them, jigsaw puzzle style, to a former totality has been worn away. So they are singular, individuated, or appear to be, even though we know that this idea can only be thought in relation to that of the larger collective whole. Obviously, all of these potentials are already in the rock, but it is the chain link net that brings them out, not just because it is a net, but because it is also a line and a shape, at once partial and porous. So I would argue that the danger of a labored metaphor (the net as an emblem of a dedifferentiating, instrumental reason) is partly circumvented by aesthetic/material considerations that take on their political resonance without disappearing behind or being subsumed by it.

    • Robert Linsley says:

      Jan, you have a very beautiful image in mind. A stone, broken off a larger one—all its faces, edges, bumps and hollows lead directly to the source. How could any artist fail to be fascinated by this image, that the particulars of a work point to another, perhaps larger object. Thinking allegorically, that absent part is the “meaning,” now lost. But if the stone is smoothed off it then appears to stand utterly alone, to have no origin. So there are two concepts of autonomy—in one the work seems apart from the world, to just be what it is without origin (that might correspond to certain reduced or “pure” abstractions), and the other concept, which I use, is of the uniqueness and irreducibility of all the particulars, which just happen to indicate a larger world by suggestion. Art is always better as a hint than an explanation, in my view.

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