Simon Streather’s Night Paintings

A Few Unruly Thoughts

This essay was written for Simon Streather’s exhibition Night Paintings at The Cello Factory, London (October 2018).

Simon Streather’s new paintings look like rare objects, either time-worn watercolours or perhaps old stained documents. Or maybe they are made to evoke fragments of ancient scrolls that can only be shown on parchment paper. Perhaps there is a reference to archives here, I’m not sure. In any case, there is obviously an inherent fragility to them.

I see them not reproduced online or in a book, but in a gallery setting, hung on the wall. I note that the paintings have no frame, and yet I also note that the hand-made sheets of papers on which they rest constitute some sort of framing device. There is a frame, but strangely the frame isn’t there. Maybe the walls or the gallery space itself constitute the frame. In any case, the parameters of the frame are unclear.

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Nikolai Fedorov’s Death

It is a well-known fact that death, being outside of all linguistic referent, cannot be represented; language is indeed utterly incapable of addressing death properly speaking. But is this always the case? Can we imagine a way of conceiving death without at the same time bumping into the limitations of language? To address this old issue, I have chosen, for this Log entry, a few key points in the work of the formidable Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorovich Fedorov [1828-1903]. This choice of author is obviously purely arbitrary, except for the crucial fact that, as I will endeavor to argue, Fedorov manages in his work to apprehend the event of death without exposing the threshold and limits of language. This Log entry should obviously only be interpreted as a small exegesis on the interface language/death in relation to Fedorov’s work—needing more work, of course!—and not as an attempt to sum up the entire sweep of his immensely varied, rich, but often contradictory philosophical and religious speculations.

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William Carlos Williams’s Cuts

Besides seeking the universal in the parochial, William Carlos Williams’s collection of poems Spring and Allis also an attempt to capture what appears to be immediately available to experience. As he writes: “…the thing [the reader] never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at all interested.”[1] The method used by Williams to capture this moment and share it with his readers is not to mediate things, but to pin things down immediately as he observes them. This method, which should obviously not be seen as a descriptive form of automatic writing, is an attempt to create a new type of poetry that is no longer mimetic, symbolic, or metaphoric, but generates reality. One illustration of this is the well-known fact that Williams wrote his poem in a few minutes with the aim of producing “new forms as additions to nature”[2] so that his words express those objects in nature, almost speak for them. Spring and All makes this abundantly clear: the leitmotif recurs repeatedly; words refine, clarify, and intensify “that eternal moment in which we alone live…”[3]

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I don’t do blogs, posts, or tweets, these graffiti on the world’s most popular virtual walls. However harsh this sounds, this is not a criticism of bloggers, posters, or tweeters. This is simply an admission of being incapable of impromptu ideas, uninhibited theories, clever proposals, spontaneous reactions, and witty retorts. I’m always hopelessly behind the pace of life, continually in need of further reflection before making a statement. As soon as an issue is worth blogging, posting, or tweeting about, it very quickly ceases to be blog, post, or tweet worthy. So I capitulate to the pace of life, endlessly postponing the entry until it loses its relevance. But I am not dead yet, so in the defiance of the inevitable, I give here a Log of ideas and reflections intermixed with some news. Please leave a comment if these scattered thoughts or news resonate in you.