MOTHER OF ABSTRACTION

Dear,

Draw a circle. Draw another circle inside it. Draw a dot in the middle. There you go: in, further in. You have a target. An egg. A pregnancy. An abstraction.

A history of abstraction.

But lets start with the egg. In The Passion according to G.H. Clarice Lispector asks: “What kind of love is as blind as an egg cell?[1]

I was having a moment with that maternally blind love the other day during my yoga practice, and I was visualizing an impregnation. You know, like one of those little movies you watch (or will watch some day) in sex-ed class:

A microscope view of billions and billions of little tadpole spermatozoids racing toward the expectant egg cell like a venereal Survival of the Fittest, of which the lucky winner gets to dive in, head first…

But that’s not quite how it happens. In reality the impregnation of an egg cell is not the work of one lucky little bastard showing all the other little bastards his tail fin. Rather, the fertilization of an egg is like a collaborative project in which the egg is marinated in all that lively willing and able spunk, until by some enzymatic osmosis the membrane protecting the egg becomes porous and she is READY![2]

And in my own little ready way it suddenly occurred to me, there and then on my yoga mat: This is just like Foucault! This is how discourse works!

Think of it, by way of murmuration: how a flock of starlings, when they gather to fly south in the winter accumulate in bigger and bigger flocks counting up to millions of birds that move together like a single organism.

So enormous is this organism that its weight occasionally breaks the branches of the trees offering a resting spot for the flock. But when the flock moves, oh how it moves -like a vibrant black sun, a single amorphous pattern that seems to have an intelligence of its own.

An intelligence not of the individual bird, but of the pattern itself.[3]

So, in this way, maybe you can imagine a school of spermatozoids swarming around the egg in patterns with an inherent intelligence, readying the egg, which in turn ripens into an intelligent readiness.[4]

In a similar way, you can imagine the singular mind being receptive to the collective pattern, being ripened in the marinade of the collective, until it is good and ready to conceive of an idea.

And so it was that at the beginning of the 20th century the collective mind was good and ready for the birth of abstraction.[5]

And the funny thing about the birth of abstraction was that it didn’t just happen in one place and in one time, but simultaneously in a few places with a few people that were sort of interconnected and sort of not, and not in a sort of all-together-now way, but more gradually and suddenly, simultaneously.

So that when you dig down to find the origin, the genius, the father of abstraction, you might end up finding its mother:

The first thing you might notice about Hilma af Klints work is its contemporaneity.

Yet Hilma af Klint could not care less about contemporaneity. She was in it for the long haul.

For eternity.

Hilma af Klint was born in Sweden in 1862, into a family of Naval officers. In 1882 she entered the Royal Academy in Stockholm, and afterwards she was awarded a studio where she maintained a practice as a professional flower- and landscape painter, until she moved back to her maternal home in 1918. She never married or had any children.[6]

We know that she had very little knowledge of languages outside of the Scandinavian ones, and that her ability to travel was limited by this, as well as her care for her ailing mother, but we know that she must have seen the work of Edward Munch, who exhibited in her studio building, and there are accounts of a meeting and a studio visit with Rudolph Steiner, on his visit to Stockholm.[7]

But where she was unable to go in her body, her mind travelled all the further and, in 1896, together with four women artists, she formed the spiritualist group The Friday Group (or The Five as they called themselves).

In tightly scheduled seances the members received instructions from supernatural beings called The Sublime who urged the women to produce automatic drawings under their guidance. Hilma, clearly being the most gifted or most daring medium quickly becomes the leader of the group.

A note in the Friday Groups seance book for November 7th 1906 reads:

You H [Hilma] when you are to interpret the color hearing and seeing tones: try to tune your mind into harmony and pray: “O Thou, give me the picture of inner clarity. Teach me to listen and receive in humility the glorious message that Thee in Thy dignity deign to send to the children of the earth…”

Amaliel draws a sketch, which H then paints. The goal is to represent a seed from which evolution develops under rain and tempest, lightning and storm. Then heavy grey clouds are coming from above.

In 1904 the sublime Amaliel gives Hilma a great task: she must devote one year exclusively to the painting of a message to mankind. She fulfills her promise from May 1907-april 1908, and she continues to work under spiritual guidance until her death, producing a massive body of works, some of which were of monumental dimensions.

After her death in 1944, her estate was entrusted to her nephew, with the stipulation that her output of more than 1000 occult paintings must not be shown publicly until 20 years after her death, as the world was not yet ready for her message.

By this time abstraction had “come of age” and had inserted itself into the mainstream (or, indeed, had become the mainstream) and had freed itself, with the help of Clement Greenberg among others, from its connections to the mystical. It had freed itself from making references to anything outside of itself… it had become self referential, really. But before then, here at its origin, abstraction was not a goal in itself… it was not really a goal at all. It was a means… a means of connecting with another spiritual dimension.

And although Hilma remained a devote Christian throughout her life, as well as being devoted to a number of other father figures, in and alongside her occult practices, I see in her spiritual practice an access to what Bracha Ettinger calls The Matrixial Borderspace, to an abstraction that is not masturbatoraly self referential:

Ettinger explains:

The womb and the prenatal phase are the referents to the real to which the imaginary Matrix corresponds. But as a concept, the Matrix is no more –but no less –related to the womb than the Phallus is related to the penis. That is, Matrix is a symbolic concept.[8]

But, here is the catch;

The Matrix is not the opposite of the Phallus; it is rather a supplementary perspective. It grants a different meaning. It draws a different field of desire.[9]

Now I realize this can be a little hard to get your head around.

(Getting your head around the Phallus, which is really just a penis with an overinflated ego, off course is easy! It can even be enjoyable if consensual and to your taste! But getting your head around the Matrix –the non-Phallus- that’s hard…)

And of course with all this talk of Phallus, we cannot ignore Freud and his famous question;

Was will das Weib?[10]

But, instead of its usual translation into: What does the woman want? I suggest an alternative:

What wants the woman?

Does society want her?
Does religion want her?
Does science want her?
Does art want her?

Does the spunk want her?

Yes! The Spunk WANTS her!

And if the spunk is male, is discourse, is the word…

(If the beginning was the word!)

And if it wants her, what is it that it wants?

Perhaps, again, we must turn to Cixous:

… it’s kind of a very black sun, with this woman in the center –the one that saps all the desires in all the books. In text after text there is an engulfing [ca s’engouffre] a gulf, an abyss. It’s the body of a woman that doesn’t know it-self, but that knows something there, in the darkness, that knows death. She’s there, she’s embodied and then once again there is this inside-out sun since all its rays are male and they come to graft themselves onto the abyss that she is, shine toward her.[11]

(Yes, it’s an abyss, but we can share it!)[12]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you get it, this no-thingness? I don’t ‘get’ it, but I think I get a glimpse of it when I hear Donna Summer, that archaeic m/other singing I Feel Love… that barely there couplet, that is really just an excuse and then the chorus that just ebbs and flows, libidinous, oceanic, throbbing, endlessly, inwardly, a maelstroem of interiority:

Ooooooooooh, I feel love, I feel love, I feel love, I feel love, I feeeeeeel looooooove…[13]

And she makes it so palpable, that that’s all we can really do with love, feel it. But, it’s not a narcissist project, at least not as we know it.

Bracha Etiinger explains it like this:

The investment in the archaeic m/other as self-object is narcissistic but this is a “neither pathological nor obnoxious” narcissistic investment, necessary for the development of psychic life and for artistic creativity. Thus, the libidinal investment is, from the beginning, a contact with the other and the outside…[14]

So, remember its true: there is no greater love than what I feel for you.[15]

It’s just that I can’t wrap it up and give it to you, it is not a gift. It is maybe a pulse, or a current. Or, maybe it is like breathing?

And that’s not just my idea!

In fact, Ettinger is quoting another psychoanalyst, Henz Kohut, who explains it like this:

The creative individual, whether in art or science, is less psychologically separated from [its] surroundings than the noncreative one; the ‘I-you’ barrier is not as clearly defined. The intensity of the creative persons awareness of the relevant aspects of [its] surroundings is akin to the detailed self-perceptions of the schizoid and the childlike…The indistinctness of ‘internal’ and ‘external’ is familiar to all of us in our relation to the surrounding air, which, as we take it in and expel it, we experience as part of ourselves… a close psychological proximity exists between the coming to life of dust and the creative transformation of a narcissistically experienced material into a work of art.[16]

So, we have a breath, becoming art, so we have a song. It’s like music.

And what I don’t get is when people say that music is abstract, when it is so concrete.

It’s like that tree falling in the woods.

You know that paradox: If a tree falls in the woods, and there is no-one around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Of course it does!

The noise is a physically present as the tree and the woods, but the question should really be if the “tree” and the “woods” are still there if there is no-one there to name them? Is a tree a “tree” to itself? Are the woods “woods”?

I don’t know.

But underneath the branches of that fallen tree, if there is room for you, there is room for me.[17]

It is a void we can share.

Love,

Mom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Lispector, Clarice: The Passion According to G.H. University of Minnesota Press, 1988

[2] This readiness, of course has nothing to do with the Republican Party’s preposterous assumption that “the female body has ways of shutting the whole thing down” in the case of forcible rape, making impregnation by rape a hypothetical occurrence that we do not need allow for in our legal system, no not that. This readiness is as dumb as it is deaf and blind, and does not know a forced entrance from another.

[3] In Denmark, where I am from, this phenomenon is actually called Sort Sol meaning “black sun” and every year bird spotters from all over the country will gather in the marshlands of southern Jutland to watch the murmuration.

Sort Sol is also the name of one of my favorite Danish bands. They have been around for (almost) as long as I remember, and started out as one of the first Danish punk bands under the name The Sods

[4] This again, has nothing to do with the notion of intelligent design since the egg and the sperm are not the product of a design process including an external designer.

[5] Although, you may argue, it always was. That abstraction was just coming back from never away, that it was always there, in the halos of Byzantine frescos, in the divine symmetry of Mandalas, in the stringent negotiation of the picture plane of the Flemish Primitives, -to name but a few -but that we had forgotten about it in the Renaissance craze of the central perspective and the feudal orders and the enlightenment philosophers and the colonialists that came after. But that’s another (art hi)story for another time.

[6] As such, there is nothing unusual about her biography, except perhaps that a female academic and professional, was still a bit of a novelty in the provincial backwaters of Stockholm of those days.

[7] Fant wrote:

In 1908 af Klint met with Rudolf Steiner for the first time and showed her paintings to him. She herself did not understand the message in these pictures and Steiner did not analyze them for her. She considered this inability to understand her own work the tragedy of her life.

From The Case of the artist Hilma af Klint, by Åke Fant, published in The Spiritual in Abstract Painting 1890-1985 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Abbeville Publishers , New York 1986.

[8] Ettinger, Bracha: Woman,-Other,-Thing: The Matrixial Touch in Matrix-Borderlines, ed. David Elliott and Pamela Ferris, Oxford: MOMA, pg.11-18.

[9] Ettinger continues:

The intrauterine feminine prenatal encounter represents, and can serve as a model for, the matrixial stratum of subjectivisation in which partial subjects composed of co-emerging I-s and Non-I’s simultaneously inhabit a shared border-space, discerning one another, yet in mutual ignorance, and sharing their impure hybrid objet a (In this matrixial dimension, subjectivity is thus conceived of as the co-poieisis of ‘I and the non-I’)

[10] Freud said once to Marie Bonaparte: ‘the great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?”

 

From Sigmund Freud: Life and Work (Hogarth Press, 1953) by Ernest Jones, Vol. 2, Pt. 3, Ch. 16. In a footnote Jones gives the original German, “Was will das Weib?

[11] From the interview On Marguerite Duras, With Michel Foucault from Cixous, Helene: White ink, Interviews on Sex, Text and Politics, Columbia Press, New York 2008

[12] And you can call me an agnostic, because sometimes like the proverbial dyslectic insomniac variant, I do lie awake at night wondering if there is a DOG… and maybe the monotheist BS that we are being fed is not a lie that has been perpetuated, I mean forget conspiracy theories, forget the fucking phallic illuminati, perhaps it is just one big cosmic misunderstanding… but I will defend the atheist position, because whatever I believe is between that void and I…The spark in the void, the void we can share, that compostable, self-combustible , soul, that dumb intelligence that lies in the fact that we are here, now.

[13] Summer, Donna I Feel Love from her concept album I remember Yesterday Casablanca records 1977. The song was originally release as a 7” and 12” single.

According to David Bowie, then in the middle of recording of his Berlin Trilogy with Brian Eno, its impact on the genre’s direction was recognized early on:

One day in Berlin … Eno came running in and said, “I have heard the sound of the future.” … he puts on “I Feel Love,” by Donna Summer … He said, “This is it, look no further. This single is going to change the sound of club music for the next fifteen years.” Which was more or less right.

From David Bowie and Kurt Loder Sound and Vision CD Liner notes, 1989

I agree with David Bowie, especially on the “more or less right” part, because we are now 35 years further and the inspirational source from this seminal record has still not been exhausted.

[14] Ettinger, Bracha: The art-and-healing Oeuvre: Metramorphic Relinquishment of the Soul-Spirit to the Spirit of the Cosmos in 3 Times Abstraction; New methods of Drawing by Hilma af Klint, Emma Kunz and Agnes Martin, Ed. By Catherine de Zegher and Hendel Teicher, The Drawing Center, New York, 2005.

[15] There is No Greater Love That What I Feel For You traditional jazz Standard, recorded among others by Billie Holiday and Amy Winehouse

[16] Kohut, Heinz: The Search for the Self, Vol. 1, International University Press, New York, 1978 pg. 427, 447-448.

[17]

Underneath the leaves where the blackbirds turn blue
If there’s room for me
There is room for you
Place your ear to the ground, you hear a voice
It sings the song
The whole night long
I am the melody of the fallen tree
What comes between me
You and me
So sadly transient, you’d never guess
It could ever be
So easy to see

Across the frozen field you hear a call
With the urgency
Of the Boiling sea
All your hopes and dreams they rise and fall
Secretly
A cacophony
The love and brutality
They all turn on me
You hope to someday see

Patiently
So sadly obvious, you’d never guess
It could ever be
So hard to see

Windsor for the Derby: Memory of a Fallen Tree, from Marie Antoinette Motion Picture Soundtrack, Polydor 2006 (The song was previously released under the bands own name, on the album We Will Fight Till Death, Secretly Canadian,2004)

Mother of Abstraction - Lise Haller Baggesen
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Mother of Abstraction- Footnote - Lise Haller Baggesen
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