Friday, March 9, 2007

The Development of a Bottle in Space

Rachel Whiteread. An interesting artist. Her work doesn't really appeal to me visually, but conceptually, I think she's a genius. She makes solid casts of negative space. The underside of a chair, the inside of a hot water pack, the space surrounding stairs, the ends of books on a bookshelf, even an entire house, including a bay window and all the details of the window pains and the molding. In negative.

Since hearing about this artist in ArtCrit last year, Space has been one of the more constant themes flashing across the marquee of my brain. Take for example your bedroom door. I'm sure I'm not alone in my bedroom door sensitivity. I, at least, have an entirely different mindset when my door is open and when it's closed, and when I think it's closed and find that it's actually partially open, I feel a little betrayed. There's something about the flow of space there, about ending and not ending. Sometimes I don't realize that I have an outside*, and I'm as big as the space around me. Sometimes I need to be contained, so I don't spill all over the place.

I feel that this can be better expressed with this passage from Nicholson Baker's** Room Temperature:

Also as a result of the weather, I was wearing a sweater for the first time in months, one Patty had given me for my birthday: a brown monster stout with various fugal inversions and augmentations of the standard cable knit, and consequently glutted with insulational dead air, its corona of lighter outer fibers frizzing out three-eighths of an inch or more from the slubbed and satisfyingly clutchable weave that formed the actual structure underneath, so that the sweater, along with me, its wearer, appeared to fade without a demonstrable outer boundary into the rest of the room ...

Brilliant, isn't it? I picture him melting into the space in syrupy threads like a gummy bear in a glass of water - where does he end and the space begin?

Without any sort of direct segway, allow me to say that I've always had a thing about touch. I wouldn't let anybody touch me in high school until I got my first boyfriend. I was always very sensitive about my personal space, and I still am to a lesser degree. Touch is very powerful on me, for good or for evil. Part of me blames the rest of my shoddy senses; if I can't see, hear, or smell the world like a normal person, at least I can feel (and sometimes taste) it intensely. I hope you see how this relates to sensitivity to space. Sometimes there's meant to be negative space between my skin and your skin, sometimes there are supposed to be doors and walls in the way, and sometimes you're supposed to kiss somebody, and sometimes your faces are supposed to be close to each other and sometimes close faces make me giggle. Closeness and space and touch, employed or refrained, speaks as much as the words you choose to use and choose not to use, don't you agree?

*Jacques Lacan's mirror stage. My knowledge of this phenomenon is very limited and very much based on my art history teacher's brief description of it over a year ago, but what I got out of it is that at some point in a baby's life, you sit it in front of a mirror and you point at the reflection and say, "See the baby? You're the baby," and the baby understands you and in one earth-shattering instant the baby's self-perception sort of throws up. Peekaboo is no longer an exercise of godlike power; people still exist even when you can't see them; you have a border, a limit, a physical space in which you are contained and a surface at which you end. Sometimes I think that if I hadn't gone through the mirror stage, I'd believe I was a very different size than I am. If I closed my eyes and gave a blind guess, I'd say I'm about a meter larger than I am in all directions. Sometimes at night I feel very small - not in the "small sad little man" sense, but just physically small. Sometimes I lay on my bed and try to feel everything on my skin (particularly the places I don't normally feel, like the top of my head or the back of my knee or the side of my foot) at once, my clothes and the air and the earth rolling around on my back. I find it very peaceful.

**What better way to honor Nicholson Baker than with a footnote? Baker is king of the footnote. You must understand some things about his style of writing; this sample passage from Room Temperature is, no exaggeration, only half of the sentence. That's fairly characteristic, as is his intense over-analysis of the most mundane-seeming details. His first book, The Mezzanine, takes 144 pages for one man's journey up an escalator and that is all. The footnotes and the sentences can last for pages. It's quite a refreshing reflection of the deepest and the shallowest of human thought; the protagonist's own thoughts range from drinking straws to shoelaces to paper towel dispensers to tongue-brushing as a major landmark in his life. Similarly, Room Temperature describes from cover to cover only a few minutes of internal dialogue from a man that is holding his child between feeding and napping. Two of the best books I've ever read.

3 reason(s) to click here:

flippin said...

I think you are too cool for me. Also, that we should get this writing group thing off the ground.

My login word is "uctip", which I'm guessing is the negative space between a cotton swab and an eardrum.

Genuine Draft said...

I love you krebscout - more than I think you'll ever know.

Thirdmango said...

So I finally read this one now too. The feeling of touch is also very powerful with me too, which is actually why I was suprised when you hugged me today. As someone who forgets the power of a hug I have lag times where I just forget to hug people. I also never hug someone usually until they've hugged me. So in other words I completely agree on how much words it speaks in the way people touch.