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“It is several weeks before May Day, 1936, in a big loft facing onto Union Square, in New York City. David Siqueiros, Mexican revolutionary, Communist, and major mural painter. is directing a large group of young artists in the construction of banners and floats for the upcoming parade. Among these are two of the younger Pollock brothers, Jackson and Sande. The atmosphere is very different from The Art Students League, where Jackson Pollock had spent several years in the painting classes of Thomas Hart Benton. For Siqueiros's talk, endlessly political, is a loud and energetic harangue against easel painting. Canvas and oils are the outworn conventions of a dying bourgeois culture, he exults. "Down with the stick with hairs on its end," he commands.' And true to his position, the paintbrush is far less in evidence during the preparations than is the spraygun, since many of the banners are made by placing stencils onto stretches of material laid on the studio floor and spraying color around them to produce superimpositions of negative silhouettes. In the formerly industrial space of this loft there are no easels to be seen, and gradually the floor becomes a strange palimpsest of sprayed color and dribbled commercial enamel as the banners are created and then removed, to be mounted onto the supports that will thrust them high into the air: the images and messages of world union. At this moment in the mid 1930s, then, Siqueiros´s signal to Jackson Pollock was strangely mixed. The floor had become a production site that was set in direct opposition to the vertical axis of the easel of the artist studio, or the wall of the burgeois apartment, or the high-cultural ideals of teh museum. But the product of the horizontal site was cultural nonetheless in that it continued to be a representation - the inevitable verticality of its gestalt left entirely intact. Siqueiros had preached a lecture against "culture", but he had continued to consolidate culture´s ally in the form of the sublimated field of image. That the horizontal plane might be understood as an axis at variance with the vertical orientation of the canvas was a position Walter Benjamin had already sketched in the late teens, when he theorized a distinction between drawing and painting. "We should speak of two cuts through the worlds substantce" he wrote, "the longitudinal cut of painting, and the transversal cut of certain graphic productions, The longitudinal cut seems to be that of representation, of a certain way it encloses things; the transversal cut is symboli, in encloses signs". More that half a century later a similar opposition between vertical and horizontal fields would be elaborates by Leo Steinberg, similar in that here, too, pictorial representation, with its alliance with the space around s and thus with something Steinberg abbreviated as "natura" was contrasted with the field of written signs, or what he analogized to printers forms, or flatbeds, in which lines of type cast in lead are set, their neccesary horizontality already forecasting the reader´s orientation to the printed image. The horizontal cast of this kind of imaginery - horizontal despite any particular position in which it might be encountered (as Benjamin wrote, it is "the internal meaning" that remain horizontal) - Steinberg related to what he called the "flatbed picture plane", and he aligned this new conception of the horizontally laden canvas with "culture". In the early 1940s Pollock had experimented with automatic writing along with other New York painters, such as Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, and Matta, in a collective effort to make contact with what was then being deemed the most important force in man's world: the unconscious. It was not just the surrealists, now residing in New York, who were addressing this force, but also important local figures, ones who were especially close to Pollock, such as John Graham. But Pollock's experiments with automatic writing - elaborated as a kind of numerological and alphabetic doodling - done at the scale of important pictures, such as Stenographic Figure (1942), carried with them a doubly disappointing message. If the unconscious was a force at war with "culture" (seen as a form of libidinal energy that could only produce a civilization shackled - in Freud's terms - by its own "discontents"), then the field of writing, itself fully programmed as cultural, cannot track this force. Second, the painting made clear, written signs set within a pictorial field cannot not hold out against the fronto-parallel organization of the Gestalt, with its drive to verticalize everything as image, to align everything in accordance with the viewer's upright body. Not only were the stenographic doodles in Pollock's picture made in the image of culture rather than that of the unconscious, but - rising into the field of the vertical-they were also recast in the image of form. In the name of the unconscious, Pollock wished to strike against form, and thus against the axis of the human body. But equally in the name of the unconscious, Pollock needed to strike against culture. And the move he went on to make in the opening days of 1947, circling back somehow to the logic of the loft on Union Square, was to sweep the horizontal field of writing off the table that made it a surrogate for "culture," and dump it - as so much trash onto the floor of Siqueiros's anticultural revolt. The floor, Pollock's work seemed to propose, in being below culture, was out of the axis of the body, and thus also below form. It was thus in January 1947 that Pollock first lowered a vertical painting covered with the totemlike figures he had been painting in the previous months onto the floor of his studio and defaced their vertical bodies with an interlaced dribble of thinned paint. But this gesture quickly gave way to a new logic: one need not literally deface the image of a body in order to attack the verticality of the axis the body shares with culture; it was enough to attack the axis itself to undermine the two together. That Pollock was intent on asking his viewers to see the newly invented idiom of his "drip pictures" via the site within which they had been made - the horizontality of the floor onto which the vertical had been lowered - becomes clear in a work like Full Fathom Five (1947) (figure 28), the dripped and encrusted surface of which bears nails, buttons, keys, tacks, coins, matches, and cigarette butts. This heterogeneity of trash which Pollock dumped onto the painting in the course of its execution testifies not merely to "the internal meaning" of the work's horizontality but also to the "bassesse" of this condition. The debris of Full Fathom Five could be thought to have been rescued somehow and resublimated by the elegance of its very literary title, coming as it does from the famous lines of Shakespeare's The Tempest: "Full fathom five thy father lies; I Of his bones are coral made; I Those are pearls that were his eyes: I Nothing of him that doth fade, I But doth suffer a sea-change I Into something rich and strange:' And indeed it is the extraordinary literariness of most of the titles in this first group of 1947 drip pictures - titles such as Sea Change, Riflections cif the Big Dipper, Galaxy, Watery Paths, and Vortex - that collectively tend to mask the import oflowness encoded onto Pollock's assumption of the horizontal. Since none of these titles were Pollock's own, however, but were instead the contributions of Ralph Manheim, a neighbor to Pollock's relative isolation in Springs, Long Island, and the translator of Thomas Mann, the pretensions to "literature" are easily explained. But what the titles all capture nonetheless, if not the intentions to lowness, is the viewer's new relation to the canvas as though it were a field onto which he or she were looking down. What is unmistakable, the titles suggest, is that the axis of the image has changed. But beyond the titles and the trash, it was Pollock's mark that testified to the horizontal import of the drip pictures, an "internal meaning" they would retain even after they had been lifted off the ground on which they had been made and onto the wall on which they would be viewed_ Dripped and flung from sticks or disfigured paintbrushes, the mark was composed of thinned oil or commercial enamel that would lace over the supine canvas surfaces, now increasingly left unprimed. This meant that, in places, the poured line would leach out into the weave of the canvas like a viscous, oily stain, while in others the filaments would sit high and ropey on top of one another, and in still others the paint would puddle up and dry unevenly, its crusty surface pulling into scummylooking scabs. What would never occur in a Pollock made between 1947 and 1950 would be the kind of "runoff' so characteristic of the other abstract expressionist painters, from Arshile Gorky to Willem de Kooning to Robert Motherwell- the vertical spills and drips that declared the original site of the painting to have been the upright of easel or wall. The power of Pollock's mark as index meant that it continued to bear witness to the horizontal's resistance to the vertical and that it was the material condition of this testimony - the oily, scabby, shiny, ropey qualities of the self-evidently horizontal mark - that would pit itself against the visual formation of the Gestalt, thus securing the condition of the work as formless. It makes no difference that the most prestigious reception of Pollock's work in the years succeeding his death would read past this mark, repressing its implications by a series of complicated recodings that turned the metallic paint into transcendental fields and the ropey networks into hovering, luminous clouds, thereby attempting to resublimate the mark, to lift it into the field of form. The mark itself not only sits there on the surface of the works for anyone to read, but its subversive intent was perceived by a whole series of artists who felt authorized in their own interpretation of Pollock's art by the series of photographs Hans Namuth had taken in 1950 of Pollock working, photographs that underscored the issue of horizontality and its operational import for what Robert Morris would come to term "anti-form." The operational character of Morris's thinking turned on the distinction he made between the "well-built" and the unconstructed, the former being everything man has fashioned to resist the dispersive force of gravity - including, in the field of art, the stretchers that support canvas, the armatures that hold up clay, and all the other rigid materials, from marble to bronze, that are deployed. A function of the well-built,form is thus vertical because it can resist gravity; what yields to gravity, then, is antiJorm. Thus for Morris it was not the thematics of trash or mess or tangle - all of which are images of something in their own way - that was pertinent to anti-form, but the operations that would make the force of gravity apparent as it pulled form apart: "random piling, loose stacking, hanging:" Accordingly Morris himself conducted certain of his first experiments in anti-form as a kind of retracing of Pollock's own steps. Morris spread immense stretches of felt onto the floor of his studio and cut a linear pattern into their surfaces. The pattern meant that as long as the material remained on the floor the work would appear to organize itself in relation to image, to Gestalt, to form. But Morris would then raise these felts onto the wall, suspending them from hooks, so that gravity would pull apart their surfaces into gaps of disturbing irregularity (see figure 13). Now scattered, the pattern would disappear; instead, the gaps would become the index of the horizontal vector understood as a force constantly active within the vertical field - a force that had been put in play in a move to disable the very formation of form. Andy Warhol had yet another response to the self-evident horizontalityof Pollock's paintings - one which began in 1961 withWarhol's decision to transform himself from commercial artist toavant-garde painter. Stretching blank canvas in front of his doorway so that visitors would walk over it, Warhol set out to experimentwith the message encoded in both his paintings and his photographs.Like the Guta! artist, Kazuo Shiraga (figure 29), it was themark interpreted as footprint that interested Warhol, who pushed this as well in the direction of those critics who spoke of Pollock'spainting as the registration of a kind of choreography. By 1962Warhol would translate this into his Dance Dia8rams (figure 30).He was careful to install these paintings prone on the floor (both in their first exhibition at the Stable Gallery and in one of his earIiest major exhibitions, in 1965) because it was only from this position that these works could expand past the cultural associationsof the diagram to the kitsch content of the mass-cultural experiencethey represented, and because it hooked this aspect back into the bassesse of Pollock's mark.But Warhol's most transgressive reading of this bassesse was thescatological one, in which the gesture that a standing man makes by spilling liquid onto a horizontal ground is simply decoded as urination. Whether Warhol conducted this reading in 1961 in the small group of "piss paintings" he claimed to have made at that time is hard to determine since the only trace of those works is the one "reproduced" in an avant-garde journal in 1976, the same year that Warhol embarked on his series called Oxidation (figure 31).5 These mammoth canvases, covered in metallic paint, were indeed made by inviting friends to pee on their surfaces, the uric acid creating the whorls and halations of what can often resemble the action painter's gesture. And one of the inescapable connotations of the Oxidation pictures is that the machismo that surrounded action painting - the legendary womanizing and boozing and fighting of its artist-"heros" -was now being recoded. For Warhol's "urinary" reading of Pollock's mark was insisting that the verticality of the phallic dimension was itself being riven from within to rotate into the axis of a homoerotic challenge. Indeed, the interconnection between the Gestalt and the phallus had been part of Jacques Lacan's theory of the mirror stage since the 1950s. A series of later analyses generated by French and AngloAmerican feminism - from Luce Irigaray and Raymond Bellour to Laura Mulvey and Stephen Heath - would also argue that the vertical is what is at stake in this connection." The elaboration of fetishism in relation to popular culture, particularly film, increasingly became the site of such analysis, with the visual Gestalt of the projected female body being the phallic symptom of the viewer's castration anxiety: simultaneously the proof of sexual difference and the site of its denial, since the woman's body, frozen and remade into the elegant Gestalt of wholeness, would thereby be "rephallicized" through the reassuring action of form. It is in relation to this discourse about the vertical import not of high culture but, from its place within film theory, of mass culture that Cindy Sherman's work needs to be read. Since Sherman's medium has always been the photographic sites of mass-cultural experience - from the film still, to the centerfold, to the backlit advertising panel- within which the image of woman is suspended, she has had to examine this phallic condition of the fetish. But the fact that she has examined it from within the discursive space that leads back to Pollock, the discursive space that had been examing ing the operational power of the informe within the American avantgarde (to name only her own immediate context) for over three decades, has meant that Sherman is not merely interested in repeating the structures of the fetish but in subverting them. It further means that one of her most powerful weapons in this process is the rotation of the image out of the axis of the vertical and onto the horizontal of the informe. (See "Gestalt," "Liquid Words," and "Conclusion: The Destiny of the Informe:')”—Horizontality. Rosalind E. Krauss
Do you ever need a word that you’re sure doesn’t exist so you’re like “fuck it I’m a modern writer I’ll make up the word that I need” and then it turns out that it’s a real word and you feel unoriginal but a little bit smarter?
Today that word for me was “verticality” which is a real word I swear you’re welcome.
enslaved - as fire swept clean the earth
below the lights (2003, osmose)
- That riff, that glorious, glorious riff.
- Repeating this sort of tunneling half-speed tremolo riff could easily end up a meandering bore. Enslaved’s masterstroke is to chop it up with those syncopated octave jumps. The result is a memorable and effortlessly replayable möbius strip of a riff.
- Mellotron and surprisingly plaintive lead guitar accentuate mournful undertones and contrast with the harsh grind of the riff.
- Martial marching of the drums parallel the riff, and ratchet up the urgency.
- At 4:21 all of the above cohere into a majestic grand finale.
- In conclusion, what a fucking riff (oh and a great song too).