Here is what Nancy says of art and memory:
“No anamnesis rises up within it, but every gesture of art strives toward its irruption, approaches to the point of brushing against it, and if necessary, to the point of burning itself and tearing itself apart.”
The drawings of hands I’ve taken from Botticelli’s painting of The Three Graces, and Bill Viola’s video, The Greeting. Both works are mentioned in Nancy’s essay. Viola’s video piece (1995) is a contemporary re-interpretation of Pontormo’s work: a “restaging and re-presenting,” to use Nancy’s words. And the Botticelli, Nancy adds, influenced Pontormo’s composition of the figures.
There are several themes in Nancy’s essay, “The Visitation,” that capture my attention. The presence of the body, birth and pre-birth (metaphoric and physical), the gesture of sharing, the concept of visitatio and interpretation as awareness, and the relationship of art to memory and the immemorial. My two recent postings are my initial forays into these ideas and I will continue to look at them in the following weeks. For me, these postings with their text, sketches and the scanned-scribed petals are a kind of visual note-taking, a learning process and a space that then allows me to take the images further into different forms and media.
Just a note though – the essay has far more to offer than the themes I have chosen; as it is yet another scaffold for Nancy’s close exploration of Christian painting. But, what always strikes me with Nancy’s writing (despite his complexity), is his beautiful poetic style and how, his opening paragraphs are always exquisite and complex ruminations on a dominant theme.
The opening statement of Nancy’s essay, “The Visitation, On Christian Painting,” reads:
“Art never commemorates. It is not made to preserve a memory, and whenever it is set to work in a monument, it does not belong to the memorializing aspect of the work.”
I must admit that this statement confounded me initially. I thought of all the monuments made to honour the memory of some important prince, general or king, and the war memorials that mark the memory of the fallen, and the tombs, statues, etc. created by great artists. These structures make up a large part of our cultural histories and they are included in art history books. Are they not art? But Nancy also adds that if we needed proof of his claim, we need only observe that “there are monuments without art, whereas there is no work of art that is as such a monument.” Ha! So,then we are meant to ask, how is this or is not art, and further, wherein lays “art? Nancy never asks easy questions.
I’ve started looking closely at another essay by Jean-Luc Nancy (from The Ground of the Image). Entitled “The Visitation,” the essay is based on a mannerist painting by Jacopo Pontormo (1528-29) which depicts the Biblical tale of a meeting between Mary, the mother of Christ and Elizabeth her cousin. A visitation – and encounter of family and friendship between two women, and a sharing (in this case of a religious miracle).
Nancy states that the term visitation in its Latin religious form means more than a physical encounter, rather it is a space of experience, of learning and awareness. Therefore, I want to begin the work on this new essay with two recent sharings of my own, visitations (in studio) with my friends, Elizabeth MacKenzie, Cyndy Chwelos and Nina Chwelos. For me, the ability to discuss my work is a crucial part of the art-making process. The studio-visit experience is always informative, thought provoking and productive, even when hard questions are asked. I see constructive criticism as a generous act because it requires the person viewing the art work to give not only of their time and attention but also of their knowledge, their experience and their aesthetic sensibilities. And when someone gives of themselves to such a degree, their responses require attention and serious consideration in return. Honesty is often not easy, but crucial for growth. So, in gratitude for their time and willingness to share, for their constant support and friendship in life and in art-making, I thank you, Elizabeth, Cyndy and Nina.