Layered Geographies, Mapping Aesthetics, and The Uncool Act of Historicizing

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BY ASHLYN BEHRNDT

NO LANDSCAPE IN SUS LAND

I see people kneeling beside them and I’m immediately inundated with thoughts of megalomaniac wall street hustlers with boot leg jeans and bad pointy oxford shoes, first class bankers of New York City. You are the punch line but also the type that would love to entertain one of my friend’s creative underpinnings, invest in their knowledge and future. Crowds form around hoping to glean a sense of luck transcending from this bronze sculpture. It feels like an anagram in real time of future grids that, most likely, unbeknownst to the photographers will precede them in symbolizing the strength and likely failure of the US economy despite their measly attempts at left-accelerationism.

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In 2011 I was a socially unaware recent graduate squatting in a Soho loft. It was September and I received a text asking if I was Occupying. My reply was naïve and dumb given my lack of awareness for what was happening in my very backyard, lack of human conversation with anyone but my barista. In between serving tables and endless applications, I slowly began to understand there were people rallying against the sort of special hell I was beginning to know, a purgatory which remains a vast, cold and permanent reality for many. A place that stretches for many beyond a crisis state but something most Americans and I can barely begin to understand. I didn’t have the internet and I would go to the library everyday to research and apply for jobs that I would never receive. I would eventually move back to Canada to live with my parents due to my lack of expertise in any one certain area, biding hardly any professional experience. I can acknowledge all of the clichés surrounding my perceived reality of obtaining meaningful employment, and existing in New York as a 21 year old out of university. The abundant representation of the city itself had always been apparent through small glimpses of anecdotal imagery and essays. I’d not yet learned the art of being scrappy but furthermore, it felt as though that part of New York had passed; left in an era for poets and artists up until the age of Giuliani. That feeling still remains, a great big question mark punctuating how people actually make their income to survive here. At that point New York was not simply a literal place but a feeling and characature of itself, one that must be earned and is lucky to be had. Often I think of the Charging Bull as a sort of pundit of my contemporaries. Maybe I should have touched them for good luck.

The sculpture was dropped near Bowling Green after the 1987 Stock Market Crash. It served to symbolize extreme optimistic economic moves. I’d like to remind you that bulls are not blind but have relatively poor eyesight. There is an area of discursive information that exists between iconographies presented digitally, often predicated on the affect from historical subconscious, and their literal cartographies—even if unrealized. Their personal associations are often murky and sometimes poetic—paradox ideas of evolving abstractions and ascending realities, subtle and overlooked. Adorno once said, “all reification is forgetting”. While I partially agree with this statement, there is plenty to be ascertained in the suspect terrain that is a layered stratification of geographical actualization, historical interpretation, and our depictions of them. I believe in light representation but is it possible to be discerned on a more personalized basis, analyzed and predicated on the landscape they are founded? Not necessarily historicized individually, but accepted as both having foundations and being reinterpreted singularly? A non Euclidian perspective, making room for cultural meanings to arise.


“A Culture is born in the moment when a great soul awakens out of the proto-spirituality of ever-childish humanity, and detaches itself, a form from the formless, a bounded and mortal thing from the boundless and enduring. It blooms on the soil of an exactly definable landscape, to which plant-wise it remains bound. It dies when this soul has actualized the full sum of its possibilities in the shape of peoples, languages, dogmas, arts, states, sciences, and reverts into the proto-soul. But its living existence, that sequence of great epochs which define and display the stages of fulfillment, is an inner passionate struggle to maintain the idea against the powers of Chaos without and the unconscious muttering deep down within … The aim once attained – the idea, the entire content of inner possibilities, fulfilled and made externally actual – the Culture suddenly hardens[..]”

1 -Joseph Tainter

 

#NEWYORKLET’SGETTHISMONEY

Newcomers, visitors, and the many hustlers of ‘the world’ (known to New Yorkers as New York) proclaim on their path to fame and success. I’ve seen liberated bodies smiling wryly into their own gaze, tag line to follow, self affirming, dubious of anything that will get in the way of their financial climb to success. 146 years prior to this, where similarly, the story of the vicious Jay Gould whom famously rose from the ashes of Roxbury, New York with his sly and gross underhanded approaches to business. The most ‘sordid’ of the Gilded Age in economics, responsible in part for Black Friday and the Erie War, he manipulated the market ruthlessly with tactics that included hiring and bribing judges, government officials. He manipulated the press by hiding his financial reports, scared off reporters with threats, and gave incentive to others who would cast him in a flattering light. He never gained respect or positive acclaim from analysts and investors because he was subjectively thought to be an asshole. The difference now is that this sort of behavior garners a response rather than dissociation. He was inevitably lonely and shunned by the media rather than praised and perpetuated.

The shrewd essence continues to mark itself, born out of the past, of the mystical and practical factors. Ambivalence is a lived axiom leading straight back to wherever you’re from. Unless that ambivalence is marketable, and often times it can be. We notice in each other how we carve out these spaces individually with futility, but trying to simply mean it, or at least show that we mean it.

There is significance in Gould’s existence that approximates a discomfort I hold and it seems particular to New York. The symbiotic parallels to the Charging Bull prove a prevalent overarching essence that is personally inescapable and informs a certain prominent aesthetic that brings together past and present in a cohesive, albeit ambitious, esoteric space. This landscape that seems to foster and fetishize the idea of ‘the hustle’ as an aesthetic trend is curious to me because it is built so far into the idealistic American culture that one doesn’t even need to realize the historical elements, or economic structures that truly drive it to begin with. I am faced with the futility of the bigger picture repeatedly as I am a bystander for the self-perpetuating, anxiety ridden images of “doing” work or showing that one is working. The technological frameworks are the landscape cradling this suspect terrain from which all grows from a self-reflexive, non-systematic place; the layer of our core that informs consciousness by approximating trends of thought that mostly travel without accountability. There is no solid state, simply a binding aesthetic sense, a portfolio, a forte, a form of participating and active cultural production, growth and movement. In my early twenties I very typically read Shela Heti’s How Should a Person Be and one line that stuck out was her self-reflective recognition that it is possible to “Work without being the person who worked”. There is a type of aesthetic empiricism that is worth acknowledging as a figurative place, a large incubator for where what we see in literal spaces is individually developed. Making money is literal; the art of making money is now a visually sustainable form.

“Past and Future quarrel over one and the same image of absence…We can think the invisible only as invisibility but we can grasp it in is complex relation to the visible. To see against sight..”

– Edmond Jabes, “A foreigner carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Book

TRACE ME

The most interesting thing about the added layer is the phenomenon of not only simply physically seeing what is unanimously felt but also realizing that place and spaces foster so many common nodes of discovery due to a new geography or re-contextualized history. The scientific aesthetic of the digital age is more linear than it appears and traceability is more an act of knowing than acknowledging. The economic traceability into an aesthetic form interests me because it carries both very literal practicalities and esoteric aesthetic properties surrounding it. John Roloff coined the phrase “Organic Logic” in 1996 while researching how aesthetics particular to art movements that had risen out of the San Francisco Bay area derived from geographical realities. I’m interested in applying this methodology in understanding our current technological geography. He was primarily concerned with “systematic, intuitive, and process orientated methodologies” that came to existence as a function of the geological landscape. He interviewed geophysicist Paul Spudich to grasp a better understanding of the strike-slip zone that exists underneath California. The current landscape of California only came to be in “geological time by the accretion of alien terranes onto the North American protocontinent which subsequently were altered by intense seismic and magmatic activity characteristic of a plate margin subduction zone”. 2 But, the most important discovery to note is in Roloff’s exchange with Spudich when speaking of the approximation of where a fault actually is and the realization that finding the true approximation is a near impossible undertaking. The only proof is a simple mathematic model of where it might be. The discursive nature of parallel aesthetic trajectories between the technological terrain and the geographical bare the same aesthetic patterns of a scientific-aesthetic and it is one that seems to be devoid of logical-positivism. The hilarity of tripping over the recreation of an image.
“To retain empiricism as the root noun is to insist on the material conditions, which inevitably ground any aesthetic or logical thought. This is not to say that all thought must conform to either the paradigms of art of science. But it does insist on the complementary aspect of these two specific forms of cognition.” 2

We ascended by large stone steps, in some places perfect, and in others thrown down by trees
which had grown up between the crevices … we followed our guide … through the thick forest,
among half-buried fragments, to fourteen monuments … one displaced from its pedestal by
enormous roots; another locked in the close embrace of branches of trees, and almost lifted out
of the earth; another hurled to the ground, and bound down by huge vines and creepers; and
one standing, with its altar before it, in a grove of trees which grew around it, seeming to shade
and shroud it as a sacred thing … The only sounds that disturbed the quiet of this buried city
were the noise of monkeys …
John L. Stephens
(1850: 102-3)

ESPACEMENT

The city shows me the paths of production, set out in a grid. Anagrams of existence and consumption romantically pile on top of the island. I exist in a constant flux of discovery based hardly on any form of history, but as I’ve argued in the form of scraps I’ve salvaged and re-contextualized ideas. And I don’t mean in the way my mother wore these jeans 20 years ago, or the way we both bounce when we walk. There are ghosts and I don’t know which trees are of local origin. I’m talking about the irrelevancy of linear knowledge and history, the uselessness of spacial contextualization as an informing factor. I’m on the same path I was on the West Coast, all of us on mind paths whether or not we know it and they are being chronicled according to our own guides, reifications, historical pickings and relevancies. New economies are being developed and new spaces for the legitimization of processes and work count. Surroundings merely point at our realities, and it is important to ask what we are of our new layer, the landscape between. What space does this create? I’m always looking for a narrative, the art of storytelling, visibility, or not. Most would argue our digital geographies have created visibility but I often feel a sense of half stories. While there is always a certain amount of guessing—where the fault line rests. “Historicizing is important, precisely because it counters the appearance of obviousness and naturalness of the present […] attempts to show the many possible outcomes of the historical process of which the present carries the potentials that are always only partially realized.”3 We are often, myself admittedly, proliferating the obviousness and naturalness of the present. I’m interested in what this points to, where it leads, the spaces it creates. I find myself trailing bread crumbs to what I already know, but when tuned in the naturalness of the modern espacement situation moments of connectivity often occur. Still, there are the same amount of hours within the day, the same capacities for information, and my same tendency of comparing everything to a natural state. In René Daumal’s Mount Analogue a group sets out on an excursion to find Mount Analogue which can only be perceived in a certain light and discovered by traversing a long distance that is non linear, a non Euclidian excursion. “Alpinism is the art of climbing mountains by confronting the greatest dangers with the greatest prudence. Art is used here to mean the accomplishment of knowledge in action. You cannot always stay on the summits. You have to come down again.”4 I’m reminded of this ether, the space where knowledge intersects with the soft focus of factual events, and the mysticism that is created between them via modernity, and technological developments—the sense of place, intuition and our perceptions around sight itself.

1 Joseph Tainter, Collapse of Complex Societies (New York & Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 78.

2 John Roloff & Mark Bartlett, New Observations: Organic Logic (New York: New Observations, 2000).

3 T. Lijster & P. Gielen (2015). ‘Towards and Espacement for Criticism’, in: T. Lijster, S Milevska, P. Gielen, R. Sonderegger (ed.) Spaces for Criticism: Shifts in Contemporary Discourse, Amsterdam: Valiz.

4 René Daumal, Mount Analogue,Boston: Shambhala, 1992, p.14.