Monthly Archives: May 2013

Kant in an Elevator in Space

In my attempt to follow Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason, I thought of a physics analogy to help make sense of a passage. I suppose this isn’t so off-topic since Kant is talking about metaphysics. On the need of the permanent for relations in time, Kant writes,

All relations of time are therefore possible only in the permanent (simultaneity and succession being the only relations in time); so that the permanent is the substratum of the empirical representation of time itself, and in it alone all determination of time is possible. Permanence expresses time in general as the constant correlate of all existence of appearances, of all change and concomitance. For change does not affect time itself, but only appearances in time […] (208).

The point being that there must be another vantage point outside of time for observation of change to be possible. My analogy comes about because this passage reminds me of a physics example in which someone is placed in a kind of windowless elevator in space, outside of the gravitational pull of planets. The force of gravity on earth is mass multiplied by the acceleration of earth’s gravity (9.8 meters/sec/sec). On a stable platform, this force can be felt pushing back up at us as the normal force. This upward force is equal to the gravitational force we exert upon the platform. In the space elevator, if the elevator were accelerating upward (in relation to the passenger’s sense of upward) at earth’s gravitational acceleration (or any positive gravitational acceleration), then the passenger would be unable to tell if the elevator were standing still on Earth or accelerating in space. If the elevator had windows, however, the passenger could possibly see stars, debris, etc. outside from which she could tell if she were seeing a parallax view of space as the elevator moved.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Diagram of a parallax view. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Because of Nothing

Sometimes after visiting some friends in the north side of Chicago, I’ll drive home south through the city to get back to the south side. Often, I’ll take Lake Shore Drive, which–as the name implies–hugs the shore of Lake Michigan. As you pass through Downtown Chicago around midnight going south this way, there’s never any traffic. On your right is the city’s skyscrapers, blazing in light, and on your left is the lake, and with it, a relative abyss of darkness. It almost feels intimidating, as if you could be at the edge of the world given the juxtaposition you find yourself in.

I recently shot through Frank M. Robinson’s The Dark Beyond the Stars (1991), which explores that feeling of the dread of encountering the abyss. Without giving too much of the book’s plot away, I think I can say that this anxiety is the starting point from which many ideas bloom. Faced with the idea of crossing the void, characters must make a decision that becomes more religious than scientific. Since I’m reading Slavoj Žižek’s book on G. W. F. Hegel’s philosophy, Less than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism, my reading of this novel became imbued with a Hegelian tone that I found rewarding. Specifically, you could say that it’s the Hegelian notion of negativity as a driving force that is appropriate in The Dark Beyond the Stars. The characters traveling between stars fear that they will never find another living being in the galaxy, and yet they push on because they’ve never found another living being in the galaxy. Some fear the abyss of interplanetary space, while others believe that only by crossing that span will their efforts be rewarded. The idea of rebirth through death is another constant motif in the novel, forcing one to rethink the limits of selfhood and subjectivity, destiny and freedom.

Speaking of crossing great divides, a few days ago I crossed the Atlantic for the first time in order to attend a conference on Hegel at Birkbeck, University of London. I’ll post more on the conference later.

Some Recent Art Shows

Work by Laura Hart Newlon. Photo from her site.

Work by Laura Hart Newlon. Photo from her site.

A couple weeks ago I went to the SAIC MFA show, where probably over 100 artists were featured. I don’t remember many to be honest, but I do remember a few prints of photographs by Laura Hart Newlon. I think I was drawn to the pieces on display due their underlying tension caused by the flatness of the medium itself and the digital layering of the elements in some of the prints. Those elements differed in their own particular flatness. The image above includes flattened fabric, covered partially by a wooden circle. One of the works had fabric itself attached to the photograph, running over the side of the print.

Robert Morris, "Untitled (Pink Felt," 1970. Photo from  the Guggenheim.

Robert Morris, “Untitled (Pink Felt)”, 1970. Photo from the Guggenheim.

Newlon’s use of fabric is a nice touch in this sense, because it’s a medium that was used by artists like Robert Morris to argue against the primacy of flatness in art, who even invoked the critique of Clement Greenberg, the priest of flat modernist painting. Robert Rauschenberg’s “Bed” (1955) is another piece that comes to mind, in which the high modern techniques of abstract expressionism are challenged by the relatively ignored arts of weaving.

On April 19th, UChicago hosted a portion of the work of their MFA students. Mark Beasley’s work is certainly impressive, and from what he’s told me, we’ll be able to see it on his website soon. It was an interactive video-panorama of a room including most of his recent work. Using your hands, you could zoom in on each piece in the room to get a better view. I haven’t known him for long, but it seems like some of his recent stuff has become more performative and conceptual. Not that those themes weren’t in previous work, but rather, there are times where a concern with computer interfaces is cast off, and he digs into the act of interfacing itself.

Nick Bastis‘s installation/environment seemed to be a hit. At one point people packed into the room within a room to read or listen to messages displayed on different screens. It was an interesting experience in that the work was an amalgamation of architecture, furniture, reading, listening, etc.

Robyn O'Neil, "Miserable Hawaii". Image from the Western Exhibitions site.

Robyn O’Neil, “Miserable Hawaii”. Image from the Western Exhibitions site.

Last Friday I went over to Western Exhibitions to see some paintings by Robyn O’Neil. If anyone knows about my thoughts on art, they know I love Mark Rothko’s paintings. And so, yes, O’Neil’s paintings reminded me of his work, specifically his later paintings, like the work he did for the Rothko Chapel in Houston, TX. The subtlety of the darkness in O’Neil’s paintings reminded me of a moment in art historian Simon Schama’s documentary on Rothko, where Schama remarks, “it’s almost as though he’s painting to see how dark he can make the light.”

From Western Exhibitions I went over to Las Manos Gallery for the opening reception of some other photographers. My favorite work there was probably that of Jaun Fernandez—a choice which is probably based on being a fan of the New Topographics style of photographers like Robert Adams and Joe Deal.

I’m glad to finally be getting out to shows now. I’m not sure what was keeping me, before. Now that it’s the end of the school year, I think there will probably a lot of great stuff to see in the next few days too.